The city of New Orleans had banned facial recognition, an error-prone technique that resulted in false arrests whenever they were used, and particularly impacts communities of color. These technologies have been shown to have negative impacts, especially in communities of color, where their deployment has led to false arrests across the United States. However, the city continued to purchase and use these tools without key politicians and civil servants even being aware of it. Through an investigation launched with independent journalism outlet The Lens, we found that these systems were obscured within a complex legal, corporate, and physical infrastructure. Because private companies and local, state and federal governments shared aspects of this infrastructure, the boundaries of these systems have become increasingly opaque. 

If elected officials don’t know that their city was using them, what else don’t they know about how they’re being used against constituents citizens? 

New Orleans is one example of a mid-sized city becoming a testing ground for surveillance technology against people of color. The Parish has bought and installed hundreds of cameras, tying them to predictive policing software created by Palantir for the New Orleans Police Department. These technologies are deployed without consultation with the community, or even the awareness of civil servants. Meanwhile, the concentration of media at the national level means that these experiments escape scrutiny by local, independent journalists. 

For 12 months in 2021, CORD partnered with a local New Orleans criminal justice publication, The Lens, to explore the surveillance apparatus in New Orleans. Neighborhood Watched is a data and investigative journalism project, paired with a local news outlet, that reveals how these entanglements are embedded into the ways New Orleans police track and monitor citizens. Tying together explanatory journalism with accessible toolkits, the website provides a list of surveillance systems otherwise obscured by bureaucracy. These systems are contextualized and explained through lenses of safety, cost, and legality. 

The Lens is one of the few independent media outlets in New Orleans looking at the issues surrounding the city’s surveillance methods. Neighborhood Watched is a stand-alone website that reflects the importance of local, investigative journalism as public service. We were delighted to create this project in collaboration with The Lens, alongside Michael Isaac Stein, Annabel Church and Winnie Yoe with funding from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. 

CORD served as creative director, expert technology consultant, and project manager and was a key research collaborator in tying together tech, policy and design research with data visualization, policy, website design and information design, with involvement in expert interviews.