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Motorola Emails Raise Privacy Concerns, Uneven Contract, Plans for Body Cams

Although a contract hasn’t been signed in Northampton, Motorola will likely control the terms. 

By Will Meyer

NORTHAMPTON — City Council will meet Thursday and continue discussing a controversial five year contract for police dash cams with technology giant Motorola Solutions after the Finance Committee agreed to recommend a public forum on the issue to the full council. 

The Shoestring requested emails documenting communication between the company and Northampton officials, which reveal proposed contract language Mototola uses to govern its business with police. The language gives Motorola tremendous power over contract terms and allows city data to be shared. Emails also show that Northampton intends to use Motorola’s cloud-based WatchGuard dash cam system to share data with other law enforcement agencies, highlighting community concerns that the technology would enable local data to flow to federal law enforcement agencies. 

Emails further reveal an aggressive marketing campaign initiated by Motorola to get more police contracts. The first email to Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper was from Motorola sales representative Jack Brunk, who wrote to Kasper on April 27th, 2021, explaining that he was the new sales rep for the area and was wondering if the department was interested in acquiring body cameras. 

Chief Kasper wrote back, explaining that the old dashcam system was not working properly and that the department was having trouble with the current provider’s IT support. Kasper emphasized that she was interested in getting dashcams through a system that could easily integrate with body worn cameras, though the department wasn’t ready to get that technology yet. 

Emails show that Motorola continued to send Kasper marketing materials, including an invitation to a Motorola summit conference in Orlando, Florida. 

Brunk did not return a phone call requesting comment. 

Municipal law stipulates that a contract longer than three years must be approved by the City Council. The Mayor has unilateral authority to sign a shorter contract without the Council’s approval. 

Contract Terms

In the February 3rd City Council meeting that centered on dashcams, it was revealed that Northampton had yet to negotiate a contract with Motorola Solutions that would govern the use of the technology. 

Yet Motorola makes licensing their equipment contingent on signing their Master Customer Agreement, a contract in which they write all of the terms and which they are able to change at any time. According to Northampton resident and attorney Dana Goldblatt, the contract is what is called an adhesion contract; “That’s when one party wrote all the terms and the other party has no bargaining power,” she told The Shoestring in an interview. Goldblatt highlighted clause 1.2, which stipulates that Motorola can modify the terms of the contract at any time and states that “if [the] Customer does not agree to any such modifications, [the] Customer must cease using the Products and Services.” In other words, there is no recourse or negotiation if a customer does not like Motorola’s terms. 

As Goldblatt explained, “this is not a negotiated situation where Northampton is contracting with Motorola to make a product that fits Northampton’s particular needs. Motorola has a product and Northampton can take it or leave it. That’s what this kind of contract says. A contract like this is a contract for buying an out-of-the-box product that you don’t anticipate having any control over.” 

In contracts with Motorola that are signed by police departments, police representatives do not sign a document that lays out the terms governing the relationship between parties, but rather sign an “online terms acknowledgement” that agrees to the master contract which is hosted on Motorola’s website and that the company can change at will. 

Emails revealed contract language that was sent to Northampton with the quote for the dash cams on December 6th, 2021. The language was identical to that used by Motorola in a contract with Amherst signed in September 2021, which The Shoestring obtained via public records request. Both the contract signed by Amherst and the terms proposed to Northampton stipulates that the Master Customer Agreement would govern business between parties. Amherst’s Town Clerk confirmed via email that the town did not amend Motorola’s terms in any way. 

In a statement to The Shoestring, Mayor Sciarra suggested that terms have yet to be negotiated. “At this time, the City of Northampton has no contract for these cameras, as it has not been authorized. As part of our procurement process, given proper authorization to engage with any vendor, terms and conditions are evaluated by our procurement officer and the City Solicitor. At that step, they work to introduce necessary language modifications that ensure all contracts are advantageous to the city and meet the requirements, as well as comply with ordinances, regulations, and law.” 

The Shoestring reached out to Motorola Solutions to get more information on its Master Customer Agreement, but its media liaison has not returned a request for comment at press time. 

IT Director Antonio Pagan told Councilors that Motorola would ask Northampton’s permission before sharing its data, telling Councilors on February 3rd that, “Motorola Solutions will not answer any questions from any [federal] agency. They will approach us first before sharing any info. They will challenge the request before even informing us of the request because of our standards that we will not share with any agency before we approve it.” 

Pagan did not respond to a request for comment explaining how he knows this information, given that Northampton has not negotiated its own terms and that the terms of the Master Customer Agreement contradict this claim. 

According to Motorola’s terms, the company and its subcontractors have the right to “process, host, cache, store, reproduce, copy, modify, combine, analyze, create derivative works from such Customer Data and to communicate, transmit, and distribute such Customer Data to third parties engaged by Motorola.” Even data that the customer marks as confidential, which has stricter rules governing its dissemination, has a carve out that allows data to be shared with “agents or consultants” that are bound by similar confidentiality agreements for purposes allowed by the agreement.

Northampton resident and anti-surveillance activist Jeff Napolitano noted the contradiction in a comment to The Shoestring: “Chief Kasper and Director Pagan implied that residents’ data would be safe, but Motorola’s contract language expressly and repeatedly allows the company to share it with an untold number of third parties.” 

Data Sharing

Before the Council in the same February 3rd meeting, Chief Kasper responded to community concerns about data sharing. “I heard people talk about during public comment how federal agencies can kinda swoop in and take information. I’m not aware of anything that allows federal agencies to do that,” Kasper said, noting that the police department regularly responds to requests from other agencies for information. Kasper stressed that federal agencies had never requested dash cam footage in the past, despite the department using the technology since 2008. 

However, emails revealed that one of the reasons NPD was interested in the WatchGuard system was that its cloud based system could help enable data sharing among law enforcement. In an email sent to Motorola, Northampton IT Project Coordinator Raphael Deh-Atheba said the police department would like to implement a system that would support “integrated sharing of data among law-enforcement agencies and court systems” — and indicates specifically that a cloud based system could help facilitate this goal. As The Shoestring noted previously, one of the selling points of the WatchGuard system is its ability to share information among law enforcement “partners” and “prosecutors,” according to its sales website.

Motorola subsidiary Vigilant Solutions was found to be sharing sensitive information with ICE that helped the agency carry out deportations in sanctuary cities, according to documents obtained by the Northern California ACLU. This data sharing also violated city privacy laws. 

Despite Kasper’s insinuation that federal agencies cannot “swoop in and take information,” Northampton is already known to use software that connects its data to federal agencies. As The Shoestring reported, Northampton uses COPLINK, a searchable police database that connects to a fusion center run by the Massachusetts State police. The fusion center is designed to share information between local, state, and federal authorities as well as private sector partners. As The Gazette and In Justice Today reported in 2018, COPLINK allows for information sharing with ICE even in sanctuary cities. Multiple federal law enforcement agencies use the technology and access its data, including the DEA, ATF, FBI, ICE, and USMS. 

“Chief Kasper’s statements at City Council represent either an ignorance of or intentionally false statements about how data is collected by local, state, and federal governments,” Napolitano said. “This is particularly surprising, given that her predecessor [Russell P. Sienkiewicz] was the chair of the Western Massachusetts Homeland Security Advisory Council’s group on facilitating the sharing of data within the region and beyond to federal fusion centers.” 

“I don’t understand how a municipal employee can come before a governance body, be so misleading, with no apparent consequences.” 

Body Cams 

The emails reveal tentative plans for the Northampton Police to integrate dash cams with body worn cameras in the future. Multiple emails suggest that Chief Kasper intends to acquire more technology. When asked for comment on her plans for body worn cameras, Kasper did not respond to an email and multiple phone calls. Mayor Sciarra told The Shoestring in a statement that she has “no plans to bring forward a funding request for Police Body Cameras.” 

Attorney Goldblatt questioned the efficacy of body cameras, noting one study that showed a correlation between police body cameras and increased use of lethal force. Other research suggests the effects of the technology are mixed at best, if not ineffective. 

Goldblatt, who is familiar with body cameras in her work as a defense attorney, told The Shoestring, “They’re not great police accountability tools, because the one thing you don’t see is what the police officers are doing.” 

Goldblatt continued, “The way that the footage is shot, it’s very confusing and disorienting because the cameras are constantly moving because the body is moving. This gives the viewer the sense that what’s happening is chaotic and threatening. Like if you want to shoot a horror movie, [you make the camera] wobble a lot, but real life is not a horror movie; the police are just regular people walking around. But then you create footage that looks like a horror movie, and you’re gonna get a lot more convictions. So this is not necessarily something we want. It’s not objective data in any normal way of thinking about it.” 

The Northampton City Council meets tonight over Zoom

Will Meyer is a co-editor of The Shoestring. Blair Gimma contributed reporting. Image, Youtube.

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