Judge to NYPD: Secret X-ray Vans Need to be Open to Public

The NYPD argued it did not have to honor FOIA requests about their secret X-ray vans.

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So how do we know that they are never using the x-ray technology without a warrant?

The NYPD has been operating in secret for a long time so this story should surprise no one. Newser.com reports, “Court: Time for NYPD to Explain Its X-Ray Vans.” Perhaps you didn’t know they had x-ray vans that can scan nearby objects. They can reveal what is in closed and locked cars, for example. If the police are using these vans within the boundaries of the Constitution, there is no problem. But the police are treating the vans like a state secret. How many are there? How much did they cost? Did the local taxpayers finance them or were they a federal grant?

To learn more about the vans—whose radiation could raise health concerns—ProPublica filed a Freedom of Information request three years ago. But the NYPD refused to release information that it said could “permit those seeking to evade detection to conform their conduct to the times, places, and methods that avoid NYPD presence and are thus most likely to yield a successful attack.” Last month, however, a judge finally called on the NYPD to release material on the vehicles, ProPublica reports.

I suspect the health risk is rather marginal, but it still remains a fact that the police are supposed to be accountable to the taxpayers they serve. You can’t maintain such a relationship if you allow the police to be a secret government.

[See also, “NYPD Going Hush Mode: Precincts Prohibited from Giving Crime Reports to The Media.”]

I think the judge’s decision was exactly right:

“The hallmark of our great nation is that it is a democracy, with a transparent government,” the state Supreme Court judge said. Other government departments have provided information about the vehicles, which are also used, for example, at border crossings. 

Naturally, the NYPD is appealing the ruling. So no information is available yet.