Council Approves Strongest-in-Nation Surveillance Technology Transparency Ordinance

Home » Council Approves Strongest-in-Nation Surveillance Technology Transparency Ordinance

Council unanimously approved Surveillance Technology Acquisition legislation today to enhance public awareness and involvement when the City considers implementing new surveillance technology or software. Currently, City departments are only required to obtain Council approval before acquiring and using surveillance hardware. The legislation approved by Council today, sponsored by Councilmember M. Lorena González (Position 9, Citywide), Chair of the Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans Committee, expands the definition of surveillance equipment to include software programs or hosted software services.

“Today’s vote is phase one in the City of Seattle’s commitment to transparency in the acquisition and use of surveillance technologies.  With growing community concerns around privacy in the face of the Trump administration, continuing challenges between community and police departments, and uncertainty in our immigrant and refugee communities, it is important for this Council to behave in a way that supports and enhances the public trust.”

For the past eight months, González has led the Council through the stakeholder process, in which her office worked closely with the ACLU of Washington, the Mayor’s Office, Council Central Staff, the Seattle IT department, and the Seattle Police Department.

Further, City departments will now be required to conduct community outreach prior to Council considering approval of surveillance technology use to ensure the public is aware and informed of City uses of surveillance technology. The Council will be advised by a community advisory group in its decision making.

“After four committee hearings and hundreds of hours of stakeholder engagement, I believe that we have carefully crafted this ordinance to deliver timely responses to the community’s concerns, and laid out a plan on moving forward with the task of better understanding the City’s concerns around data protocols. Under this ordinance, a department employee’s acquisition of any surveillance technology, or surveillance technology acquired or operated on the City’s behalf would be subject to Council approval.”

González continued, “There are appropriate reasons to collect data like security  cameras at our water reservoirs, but there’s also opportunity for the City to go too far. Through this new law, Council will be a check and balance on surveillance technology acquisitions because the public deserves to know how such data will be managed and for what purpose it is being collected .

“I want to thank the ACLU of Washington and other community partners for understanding that we are taking surveillance technology issues very seriously at the City. Technology is ever-changing, and it’s on us to keep up.  As such, I intend to continue my work on surveillance issues, especially surveillance data, in 2018.”

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