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May 14, 2024

Pressley Joins Markey, Colleagues Urge DHS to Investigate Federal Funding of ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection System

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) joined Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), along with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), on a letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General, urging it to investigate DHS grant funding spent on the ShotSpotter acoustic gunshot detection system, including whether ShotSpotter’s use may lead to violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

ShotSpotter is an acoustic gunshot detection system that purportedly allows law enforcement to accurately detect and locate gunshot incidents. According to the manufacturer, ShotSpotter uses an array of acoustic sensors that are connected to its cloud-based application that captures the precise time and audio associated with sounds that may represent gunfire. But despite ShotSpotter’s claims of a high aggregate accuracy rate, recent reporting shows high error rates and the over-deployment of sensors in predominantly Black and Latino communities. Studies have also shown that biased deployment of the system can perpetuate the over-policing and unjustified surveillance of communities of color, exposing residents to police interrogations, confrontation, and potentially creating dangerous situations for residents.

In the letter to Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari, the lawmakers wrote, “Several recent reports have cast substantial doubt on the accuracy and effectiveness of the ‘ShotSpotter’ gunshot detection system and have raised serious questions about its contribution to unjustified surveillance and over-policing of Black, Brown, and Latino communities… We request that the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigate DHS’s spending of taxpayer dollars on ShotSpotter, including potential violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating based on race, color, and national origin.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Rep. Pressley is a co-lead of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, legislation to prevent the government from using facial recognition and other biometric technologies, which pose significant privacy and civil liberties issues and disproportionately harm marginalized communities.

In July 2019, Rep. Pressley announced legislation that would prohibit the use of biometric recognition technology in most public and assisted housing units funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), protecting tenants from biased surveillance technology. The No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act was again introduced in 2021.

In Congress, Rep. Pressley represents the cities of Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge, which are among the first cities on the east coast to outlaw the use of facial recognition technology. Rep. Pressley has also supported a statewide ban on its use in Massachusetts.