Surveillance Legislation Passes Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee


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A couple weeks ago you may recall that I wrote about my efforts to draft legislation relating to the City use of surveillance cameras.

Passed today by the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, Council Bill 117730 will require all City departments to obtain Council approval prior to acquiring surveillance equipment of any type.  The respective department must also proactively conduct outreach in each community in which the department intends to use the equipment.  In addition, the legislation requires that operational protocols will be developed and passed by ordinance.   Separately, data management and retention protocols are required to be developed and presented to the City Council, but approval of that set of separate protocols by ordinance will be optional.

The legislation specifies the categories of information that departments will need to submit when a request to acquire surveillance equipment is made to Council.  It does not specify the actual protocols that departments must adopt.  Because protocols will very likely vary by purpose, type of equipment, and location, the Council will need to consider protocols on a case-by-case basis.

For those City departments acquiring or operating surveillance equipment prior to the effective date of this ordinance, they’ll also have to still propose written operational protocols no later than thirty days following the effective date of the ordinance for Council review and approval.

If you’d like to watch the committee discussion, you can do so here.  The legislation will be heard by the Full Council a week from next Monday, on March 18, at 2:00 PM.  I believe that this legislation goes a long way towards ensuring future, on-going open and transparent discussions on the use of surveillance cameras and weighing the public benefits of such technologies against the potential downsides, including impacts on privacy.

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Comment from Eric Bell
Time March 7, 2013 at 10:42 am

This legistlation is a good step. There absolutely must be public oversight of police surveillance efforts and used of advanced technology. It is simply too dangerous to be left unsupervised. Deputy Police Chief Kimerer, as quoted in the Seattle Times, put it quite aptly — “The technology that’s coming is stunning”.

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