Three notes tonight on the Seattle Police surveillance-camera system that is being installed now and that the department hopes to activate this spring:
COUNCIL VOTE MONDAY ON SURVEILLANCE-SYSTEM OVERSIGHT: This Monday during the Seattle City Council‘s regular 2 pm meeting, they are scheduled to vote on the proposal to give the council a role in overseeing city-owned/operated surveillance systems from hereon out. It is not a vote specifically on the 30-camera system that Seattle Police wants to use in connection with a federally funded “wireless mesh” communications system, but rather a vote on a bill setting policies regarding surveillance systems. As reported in as-it-happened coverage here, the council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee discussed the bill on March 6, including amendments. Civil-liberties activist/writer Phil Mocek has compared an earlier version of the bill to the amended version that the council will consider Monday – showing and writing about the differences on his website here, including a side-by-side comparison. Along with other points, he notes that it speaks to concerns about communication – this system, you’ll recall, was being installed without any word to the public:
Instead of a description of the nature and extent of outreach performed, the bill now requires (in paragraph ‘H’) plans for public outreach for each community in which the surveillance equipment is intended to be used, including opportunity for public meetings, opportunity for comment periods, and written agency responses to public comments.
You can read the full bill here. The Monday afternoon council meetings do begin with a public-comment period; they’re in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall downtown.
PUBLIC-DISCLOSURE REQUEST: In late January (shortly after we first reported on the cameas), Mocek initiated public-disclosure actions seeking various types of documentation related to this system, and the resulting public release of documents is under way. Some have been made available on the website through which he filed the request, and others are in progress. Another local advocate, Andrew Pilloud, also filed for public release of documents and gave us the heads-up today that some are now available – he has written about it on his website, here. He says his concerns include the fact the city could vastly expand the camera network (as discussed in an online article we found in our early reporting on the system): “If the city was offered another grant, there is no technical reason not to add a camera to every other mesh node in the city for 180 in total.” He also says the cameras have capacities beyond what SPD originally sought – this came up briefly in Q/A at last Tuesday’s Alki Bathhouse meeting (WSB coverage, with video, here).
‘TAKE DOWN THE CAMERAS’ ONLINE PETITION: As mentioned previously in WSB comments and the WSB Forums, an online petition is circulating to ask the city to cancel the camera system. (At least twice in meetings we’ve covered, SPD leadership has said that could be done without affecting the “wireless-mesh” communications network.) The petition is here. It was created by Avrian Sellick, who tells WSB this is not only for those who are against the cameras: “The petition is also for those who are deeply concerned with the SPD’s handling of the public relations aspect of these cameras. … I really just want to give those people who are concerned about these cameras an organized avenue to communicate with the city and SPD.”
Side note: SPD plans another meeting about the surveillance cameras this Tuesday in Belltown, and has said there will be others, though no further dates have been announced. It’s at 7 pm Tuesday (March 19), Belltown Community Center.