This afternoon the Council adopted an ordinance updating the city’s existing law restricting the acquisition of surveillance technologies.
After several months of work, this morning the Council moved forward an update to the city’s ordinance regulating use of surveillance technology by SPD and other city departments.
What started out as a fairly simple task, extending the current rules beyond hardware to include software and web services, turned out to be a nearly intractable set of complex issues. In the end the ordinance’s sponsor, Council member Gonzalez, settled for addressing just a subset of the issues in what she referred to this morning as “phase one.”
The City of Seattle’s parking enforcement division uses automated license plate readers to identify cars (and drivers) with multiple parking tickets so they can boot or impound the vehicles as necessary. SPD uses that same data to identify stolen cars, as well as those wanted in relation to specific criminal activities. Back in 2012, New York City took it further: they used cameras on street light poles to track people coming and going from mosques — an act that most people think stepped over the line of acceptable surveillance.
How the City of Seattle acquires and uses surveillance technology — and the data gleaned from it — was the topic of a Council hearing this morning, one of a series in the ongoing process of updating the city’s laws on surveillance.
The City of Seattle has a law on the books requiring The City Council to approve any department’s acquisition of surveillance equipment. The law is old and badly in need of updating, as last year’s Geofeedia incident made clear. Yesterday the Council started its formal consideration of a refreshed version more in keeping with today’s technology.
Surveillance cameras on city-owned street poles tops the news this morning.