The Seattle City Council has voted unanimously to say that any department (presumably just the police, but I’ve got my eye on you animal control) that wants to have drones or other surveillance equipment has to get it approved by the council and submit a plan for how they’re going to do that.
The Council has set out hoops through which the cops, or any other city department, much jump through before any big brother starts watching. Before acquiring surveillance equipment, the Seattle Police must obtain approval by the the Council. The police must propose protocols that disclose how cameras will be used, how and where data will be retained and stored and accessed.
The Council legislation requires Seattle Police to provide a description of “the nature and extent of public outreach conducted in each community in which the department intends to use the surveillance equipment.” And the police will have to explain “how the department’s use of the equipment will be regulated to protect privacy and limit the risk of potential abuse.”
The police would have to say how long data would be retained, and how it would be labeled or indexed, and who would have access to it.
If the Council has approved a request to purchase surveillance equipment, the Seattle Police cannot install cameras until the Council has formally set rules for its operation.
It’s obviously a better protection for civil liberties than the status quo, so great. We’ll get to have better knowledge and a chance to weigh in on future surveillance before it goes into action. Still, it doesn’t forestall abuse by the city. It only makes it somewhat tougher and more transparent. So vigilance is, as always, needed.