Seattle City Council passes legislation to protect public’s privacy from surveillance equipment

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City of Seattle

Councilmember Bruce A. Harrell
Councilmember Nick Licata

Seattle City Council passes legislation to protect public’s privacy from surveillance equipment

SeattleThe Seattle City Council today unanimously passed legislation to require City departments to obtain Council approval prior to acquiring certain surveillance equipment. Council Bill 117730 additionally requires Council review and approval of department protocols for operating the surveillance equipment and managing the data collected by it.

Through an open and transparent discussion, the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology committee listened to the public’s concerns regarding the use of surveillance equipment and acted to ensure strong legislative protocols are in place to protect the public’s privacy and civil liberties.

Council Bill 117730 creates a decision framework for City departments to acquire surveillance equipment.  Before acquiring any surveillance equipment, City departments must obtain approval from the City Council.  The department must also propose operational protocols that address how the equipment will be used and protocols that address logistics around data retention, storage, and access.  If the Council approves a department’s request to obtain the surveillance equipment, the department cannot use the equipment until Council adopts operational protocols by ordinance.

"With this inclusive legislation, the Council is proactively setting up a framework to ensure the public is involved regarding the use of surveillance equipment," said Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology committee.  "The City establishes public trust by earning it through openness and transparency in its decision making."

"For me, the question is should a free society allow personal activities that occur in public to come under 24/7 surveillance? I think that this legislation strikes a balance that provides for safety without compromising the principles of our democracy," said Councilmember Nick Licata.

Departments that currently have surveillance equipment in place must propose operational and data management protocols for Council review and approval no later than 30 days after the effective date of Council Bill 117730.
The information required for the operational and data management protocols include:

1. A clear statement describing the purpose and use of the proposed surveillance equipment.
2. The type of surveillance equipment to be acquired and used.
3. The intended specific location of such surveillance equipment if affixed to a building or other structure.
4. How and when a department proposes to use the surveillance equipment, such as whether the equipment will be operated continuously or used only under specific circumstances.
5. How the department’s use of the equipment will be regulated to protect privacy and limit the risk of potential abuse.
6. A description of how and when data will be collected and retained and who will have access to any data captured by the surveillance equipment.
7. The extent to which activity will be monitored in real time as data is being captured and the extent to which monitoring of historically recorded information will occur.
8. A description of the nature and extent of public outreach conducted in each community in which the department intends to use the surveillance equipment.
9. The time period for which any data collected by surveillance equipment will be retained.
10. The methods for storing recorded information, including how the data is to be labeled or indexed.  Such methods must allow for the department personnel and the City Auditor’s Office to readily search and locate specific data that is collected and determine with certainty that data was properly deleted, consistent with applicable law.
11. How the data may be accessed, including who will be responsible for authorizing access, who will be allowed to request access, and acceptable reasons for requesting access.
12. A viewer’s log or other comparable method to track viewings of any data captured or collected by the surveillance equipment, including the date, time, the individuals involved, and the reason(s) for viewing the records.
13. A description of the individuals who have authority to obtain copies of the records and how the existence and location of copies will be tracked.

[View in Council Newsroom]