Public outcry ended the 2010 use of surveillance cameras in Cal Anderson Park, grounded Seattle Police Department drones and has thrown into question the use of 30 waterfront cameras. That’s a lot of surveillance gear headed for the bargain bin. Wednesday, Seattle’s City Council will consider legislation requiring approval before any similar equipment is acquired again.
“When should a free society allow personal activities that occur in public to come under 24/7 surveillance?” writes City Council member Nick Licata.
Licata wrote about the proposal in his Urban Politics blog.
We must always strive for a balance that provides for safety without compromising the principles of our democracy. To try and best strike that balance, I am proposing legislation that requires departments seeking to acquire certain surveillance equipment to first obtain City Council approval as well as requiring that they develop protocols to be passed by the Council to guide their proper use, including retention, storage, and access of any data that the cameras capture.
The debate over the spy cams includes 2008, when the council voted to authorize a pilot project of 12 cameras in four city parks, including Cal Anderson Park. In 2010, CHS reported on the cameras’ removal, as well as the ongoing battle over the cameras between privacy and civil liberties advocates and city officials who felt the technology helped deter crime in Cal Anderson even though a city auditor’s study said there was no measurable impact from the technology’s placement in the park.
Back then, the city set out to find community members to be part of a citizens’ board to advise on matters of technology and communications. Still, the Seattle Police Department recently installed the 30 cameras along the Seattle waterfront, from Fauntleroy to Golden Gardens.
“The system will not be operated until a thorough public vetting of the system has been completed and the public has provided input,” McGinn said in prepared statement.
Licata says the committee didn’t support the surveillance cameras, which were installed in recreational and residential zones, and doesn’t think similar camera use will be supported in the future.
If the cameras that are part of the Port Security Surveillance Camera Project have the capacity to deliberately or inadvertently capture the activity of individuals on public or private property, under those circumstances, the legislation that I am working on would require that those cameras would first have to be approved by the Council and the Council would also have to approve protocols for their use. If, on the other hand, they are aimed strictly on infrastructure and the immediate perimeter for security purposes, then my legislation would not apply.
A hearing on the legislation will be held Wednesday afternoon:
Seattle – The Seattle City Council understands the public’s concern with the use of surveillance cameras, whether they are drones or security cameras on the shoreline. On March 6, Councilmembers Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell will introduce new legislation to restrict the use of surveillance equipment unless used under certain circumstances, detailed in the legislation, by the City. The City will have an open and transparent discussion on the use of security cameras throughout the City.
Council Bill 117730 will require all City departments to obtain Council approval prior to acquiring surveillance equipment of any type. It also requires Council review and approval of department protocols for operating the equipment and managing the data collected. The respective department must also proactively conduct outreach in each community in which the department intends to use the equipment.
WHAT: Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee
WHEN: Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Council Chambers, second floor
Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue, Seattle 98104
WHO: Councilmember Bruce A. Harrell
Councilmember Nick Licata
Councilmember Mike O’Brien
For an in-depth look at the legislation, check out Capitol Hill privacy advocate Phil Mocek’s analysis here.