Despite concerns remaining about when the devices will be turned on (and off), how privacy issues will be handled, and how the recordings might be made available to federal authorities, a 2016 Department of Justice survey showed Seattle residents want their police to wear body cameras. Monday, the City Council voted 6-2 to lift budget restrictions and allow the Seattle Police Department to move forward with a $2.3 million plan to outfit every officer with the devices starting later this year. Continue reading
With renewed concerns about the reach of the federal government’s surveillance, the chair of Seattle City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee wants to strengthen the city’s laws when it comes to warrantless cameras on City of Seattle property and assets like Seattle City Light’s utility poles.
“At least I think that the members of the public agree that Seattle must stand up to any kind of big brother idea, and also I would like for the city to protect its residents without having any real expectations for cooperation from federal agencies,” District 3 representative and committee chair Kshama Sawant said.
“I don’t think we should expect that in normal circumstances, certainly, we should not expect that from a Trump administration.” Continue reading
In August, the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms caused a stir when the agency confirmed it quietly installed two surveillance cameras high-up on Seattle City Light poles along 23rd Ave at Union and Jackson.
While the ATF said Seattle Police were not involved, privacy activist Phil Mocek filed a request for the agreement federal agents reached with SCL to see how the City of Seattle may have assisted in the operation. It turns out, there was no agreement to send.
“It was more informal,” SCL spokesperson Scott Thomsen told CHS. “(ATF) had asked us and we agreed to let them place their cameras on our poles.” (Correction: We misquoted Thomsen’s statement and have updated the quote. City Light agreed to allow ATF to place the cameras. City Light did not install the equipment. Sorry for the error.)
Thomsen said such verbal agreements are within the authority of the SCL general manager.
SCL did not notify City Council or the City Attorney about the ATF request. A 2013 Seattle ordinance requires City agencies to notify City Council if they are using surveillance equipment. According to Thomsen, since SCL did not own the equipment or assist in gathering the surveillance, there was no reason to notify City Council. “We were merely allowing them to use the poles,” Thomsen said.
As chair of the public safety committee, City Council member Bruce Harrell has indicated he is considering a resolution to request agencies notify City Hall in such situations.
A wave of Central District shootings this summer prompted some community activists to call for police surveillance cameras to help keep the peace. Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and Mayor Ed Murray have said they’re considering it.
In 2010, controversy over privacy and SPD policies lead to the eventual removal of surveillance cameras from Cal Anderson Park while SPD’s cameras at other area facilities remained in place. In 2013, SPD took down its powerful “mesh network” that had the potential to map the movement of digital devices throughout the city. Then-chief Jim Pugel said the city needed to have a “vigorous debate” on such surveillance activities.
Meanwhile, federal law enforcement cash has been flooding into Seattle this year. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was in town last month to highlight several of those crime prevention grants and last week SPD unveiled its Department of Justice-backed Real Time Crime Center.
Last month, a wave of Central District shootings prompted some community activists to call for police surveillance cameras to help keep the peace. While the Seattle Police Department and Mayor Ed Murray said they were studying the issue, federal agents quietly moved ahead.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms confirmed it was the agency behind two cameras installed high-up on light poles at 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson.
ATF spokesperson Brian Bennet emailed the following statement to CHS:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has placed video cameras in Seattle locations to support an ongoing federal criminal investigation. These cameras belong to our agency. They weren’t requested by nor are they monitored by the Seattle Police Department.
As our investigation is ongoing, we have no further comment on this subject.
ATF’s surveillance activities are part of the work it carries out as head agency of the Puget Sound Regional Crime Gun Task Force. Bennet did not divulge any further details on how the cameras were being used, only that recordings were being downloaded to a hard drive and not actively being monitored.
In a July community meeting, Murray said the city was still in the process of “looking at” deploying advanced surveillance cameras and also promised that, unlike past use of cameras in Seattle, the process to deploy the technology would be fully public. Speaking before ATF representatives, Murray and SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole were both apparently unaware of the agency’s camera plan at the time.
During that meeting, Reverend Harriet Walden said her Mothers for Police Accountability should be counted among the city’s community groups calling for the new cameras. “We want convictions,” she said. Continue reading
Until everyone is embedded with an RFID chip at birth or employed by Microsoft, governments are going to continue to wrestle with how to best outfit people with paper and plastic ID cards. Councilmember Bruce Harrell announced Monday that he would begin to explore the creation of a city ID card, citing serious barriers to acquiring identification from the state.
“A municipal ID card can provide a much more affordable and easier pathway for residents from diverse communities to succeed and more efficiently access critical services,” he said in a statement.
Several cities already issue city IDs, including San Francisco. Harrell said Seattle residents could benefit from the card in multiple ways:
- The ID car would be accepted as proof of identity by all city agencies, as well as other institutions in the city
- Thousands of Seattle residents could more easily obtain library cards, further education, get medical help, cash a check, sign leases, find employment, or open a bank account.
- The identification card would allow many of Seattle’s most vulnerable residents such as immigrants and refugees, the elderly, the homeless and members of the transgender community better access to participating in civic life.
- The identification card will allow members of the immigrant and refugee community to gain greater confidence and feel more comfortable when seeking assistance from law enforcement.
The city council will be discussing the proposed program at Wednesday’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee meeting at 2:00 PM.
If you see bands of young people wandering the neighborhood streets of Capitol Hill snapping pictures with their mobile phones this summer, don’t worry — you’re not photobombing any selfies. Seattle-based online real estate company Zillow tells CHS it is experimenting with a possible new site feature to include better imagery of homes for the company’s listings.
But instead of employing satellites or camera cars — or professional photographers, for that matter, the company is taking a much more sneakers on the ground approach. A company spokesperson tells CHS that people spotted around Capitol Hill with Zillow badges and camera phones at the ready are taking pictures of the exteriors of neighborhood homes to be added to the Zillow site in a test to gauge interest in having even more pictures to look at as customers search for homes.
The summer hires have been given firm instructions not to take pictures of anything but the exteriors of the houses, to respect “everybody’s privacy,” and to remain on public property — sidewalks, streets, etc. — where the First Amendment rules.
In addition to Capitol Hill, the Zillow rep said you can expect to see the photo collectors in other neighborhoods “in certain ZIP codes” around Seattle.
Perhaps the Creepy Cameraman should hang out with the Capitol Hill drone pilot. Thursday night, CHS reader Art tells us he had a possible run-in with the notorious cameraman:
Yesterday evening, around 5:20pm, my friends and I were accosted by this guy aggressively recording us at the bus stop on Madison between 13th and 12th. When asked to stop politely, he would simply step closer. Attempting to dissuade him from continuing we moved, trying to keep him at our backs; he responded by remaining silent and moving around to try and get our faces on camera, getting really up close and aggressive. While one of us contacted SPD, my friend snapped a picture, attached. Finally, still silent, he decided to leave, putting away the camera and walking up Madison, turning on 13th.
Last fall, similar videos shot on Seattle streets earned their creator the Creepy Cameraman nickname as privacy issues were raised by his legal but voyeuristic behavior. We’re not aware of any physical description of that man — or any images that turn the lens back on him.
SPD was called to the area of 13th and E Madison Thursday night around 5:43 PM but we can’t find any record of the suspicious-acting man being contacted. Just 30 minutes earlier, in a likely but still notable coincidence, police were called to 20th Ave E to a report of a man taking a picture of houses who became aggressive when the 911 caller asked him what he was up to. The 20th Ave E photographer’s description wasn’t anything like the man shown in Art’s pictures, by the way, and no laws were broken in that incident.
This spring, CHS ended up bringing worldwide attention to a peculiar situation reported in the Miller Park neighborhood involving a woman’s concern about a man flying a camera-equipped drone doing “research” near her home.
The incidents in an increasingly photographed, recorded and documented environment illustrate some of the inherent tensions as we get used to what is normal and what is simply weird when it comes to technology and privacy.