California Uses Copyright Law to Hide Insider Documents on Police Training

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a California-based non-profit technology and civil liberties organization, has alleged the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) of using copyright claims to skirt a state transparency law that requires state and local law enforcement agencies to post materials used to train new officers.

Specifically, the EFF sought training materials regarding the use of automated license plate readers (ALPR), facial recognition technology and use-of-force by officers

However, when the EFF tried to access these materials using POST's open data portal, POST's documents allegedly declared these materials unavailable due to copyright protections invoked by the companies that had created them.

This refusal to furnish documents under copyright claims goes against the California Public Records Act (CPRA), a law that went into effect in 2020 requiring POST to "conspicuously post" all training materials, the EFF claims.

Though CPRA has a copyright exemption for computer software developed by a state or local agencies, no such exemptions for training materials created by outside companies, even if the materials cover software or technology developed by third-party or private companies, according to EFF Senior Investigative Researcher, Dave Maass and fellow Naomi Gilens.

Furthermore, Maass and Gilens allege that POST's publication of other training materials often entail outlines and overviews of training modules rather than detailed descriptions with full educational materials included. For example, some training documents will mention presentation slides but exclude the actual slides being referenced.

"The public has the right to know how peace officers are trained—and for good reason: Officers' use of force causes bodily harm and, in some cases, death," Maass and Gilens wrote in a June 25 letter to POST on behalf of the EFF.

"ALPR and facial recognition technology amass vast amounts of data about California residents," their letter continued. "Both technologies have triggered legislative action on the state and local level, and it is important for the public to examine whether the training reflects new and evolving law."

Newsweek reached out to POST for further information. This story will be updated with any response.

California law enforcement agencies POST CPRA EFF
A demonstrator holds her hands up while she kneels in front of the Police at the Anaheim City Hall on June 1, 2020 in Anaheim, California, during a peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd Apu Gomes / AFP/Getty

One year ago, The Los Angeles Times reported that Californian law enforcement agencies were "charging high fees for records, destroying documents and even ignoring court orders to produce" files related to investigations even though a transparency law, SB 1421, required them to.

The agencies claimed that it lacked the staff, funding and well-maintained archives to quickly make such documents publicly available.

Maass and Gilens contend that the public availability of training materials on the use-of-force are especially important considering the increased scrutiny law enforcement officials have come under of late.

Calls for police reform and use-of-force review have increased amid the ongoing nationwide protests against police brutality following the May 25 death of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

The EFF has warned in the past that ALPR and facial recognition technology can often be used to monitor activists, protesters and communities of color, potentially widening racial disparities in policing and even wrongly identifying potential suspects.

The EFF has asked POST to respond to its public letter by July 10.