Inquiring privacy experts want to know, and they’ve wanted to know for a few years: what type of facial recognition technology is the New York City Police Department (NYPD) using?

What’s it purchased? What are its policies and procedures? How does it train cops on how to use it? What agreements does it have with other agencies that help it run the facial recognition program?

After three years of asking these questions, and filing over 100 requests for relevant documents – which the NYPD is required to hand over per New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) – and after a year of being told that the department couldn’t find any such information, Georgetown University Law Center’s Center on Privacy & Technology (CPT) think tank finally managed to claw out 3,700 pages.

Some of which, three weeks after it coughed them up, the NYPD demanded that the CPT return.

A Manhattan judge has ordered the CPT to give back 20 pages of confidential, unredacted documents about the NYPD’s use of facial recognition that were handed over by mistake during the long-running legal case… Oops.

Mind you, the NYPD has already shared these documents. At least once, it’s done so publicly… or, rather, it’s shared one document with anybody who could cough up a conference fee to see it splashed on a screen in a PowerPoint presentation.

According to the New York Daily News, these are some of the schizophrenic approaches the NYPD has demonstrated when it comes to these supposedly highly sensitive documents:

  • A heavily redacted user guide for a facial recognition program by Dataworks Plus was turned over during the legal proceedings in the CPT’s lawsuit. The NYPD handed over an unredacted copy of the same document, which explains what the media outlet describes as a Photoshop-style program, during an earlier lawsuit.
  • Anybody with $1,695 to fork over could have seen the NYPD deliver a Powerpoint presentation on its Facial Identification Section during a September 2018 conference. It now claims that the same information is “too sensitive” to disclose through the lawsuit, according to Clare Garvie, an attorney with the CPT.

Garvie had the documents for 20 days. She’d already reviewed them well before the NYPD told her, in December, that she wasn’t supposed to have seen those 20 unredacted pages. The information is now in her head. What, exactly, does the court think it can do to wipe her wetware, short of a lobotomy?