Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (May 14, 2024) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), along with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) today wrote 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.”

Senator Markey is the co-author with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, legislation that would 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 December 2023, Senator Markey introduced the Eliminating Bias in Algorithmic Systems Act (BIAS) to ensure that every federal agency that uses, funds, or oversees artificial intelligence (AI) has an office of civil rights focused on combatting AI bias and discrimination.