(Camera and “wireless mesh” array at 63rd/Beach Drive, silhouetted at dusk Monday)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
So far, the “thorough public vetting” of the Seattle Police-managed, Homeland Security-funded surveillance cameras awaiting activation in Alki and elsewhere has consisted of two events: A briefing at the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee meeting two weeks ago (WSB coverage here), and one at the Alki Community Council‘s board meeting in West Seattle the next night (WSB coverage here).
At both of the briefings two weeks ago, SPD reps mentioned a plan in the works for public forums; we asked about the dates then, again a week ago, and again this week – still no dates or other details. SPD Public Affairs told WSB this morning they haven’t heard yet either.
A related topic will get some sunlight tomorrow, when the Public Safety (etc.) Committee meets again, to discuss Councilmembers Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell‘s proposal for vetting future use/purchase of surveillance equipment, with at least one clause that appears to apply even to what’s already in the works:
The same committee gave its blessing to the $5 million federal surveillance-camera grant last May, as first reported here on January 31, with chair Harrell and member Mike O’Brien present, but Harrell told WSB last month that the SPD description of the cameras’ purpose as “port security” did not include any mention that they would turn up in residential and recreational areas, as they did in late January, when WSB readers noticed them and asked us about them, leading to first word of what they were.
The ordinance, Council Bill 117730, will be heard in committee at 2 pm tomorrow (Wednesday). Follow that link to read the full text; it cites the now-scrapped drones as well as the waterfront cameras as grounds for creating a new Seattle Municipal Code chapter titled “Acquisition and Use of Surveillance Equipment.” It says in part:
Any City department intending to acquire surveillance equipment shall obtain City Council approval via ordinance prior to acquisition. Prior to deployment or installation of the surveillance equipment, City departments shall obtain Council approval via ordinance of operational protocols, unless applicable operational protocols were previously approved by ordinance. In requesting approval for acquisition of surveillance equipment, City departments shall include proposed operational protocols containing the following information for the City Council’s consideration, along with any other information specifically requested by the City Council:
A. A clear statement describing the purpose and use of the proposed surveillance equipment.
B. The type of surveillance equipment to be acquired and used.
C. The intended specific location of such surveillance equipment if affixed to a building or other structure.
D. 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.
E. How the department’s use of the equipment will be regulated to protect privacy and limit the risk of potential abuse.
F. 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.
G. 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.
H. A description of the nature and extent of public outreach conducted in each community in which the department intends to use the surveillance equipment.
I. If a department is requesting to acquire or use drones or other unmanned aircraft, it shall propose the specific circumstances under which they may be deployed, along with clearly articulated authorization protocols.
J. If more than one department will have access to the surveillance equipment or the data captured by it, a lead department shall be identified that is responsible for maintaining the equipment and ensuring compliance with all related protocols. If the lead department intends to delegate any related responsibilities to other departments and city personnel, these responsibilities and associated departments and personnel shall be clearly identified.
And it includes a provision that could apply retroactively to the camera system that’s already been partly installed:
Section 3. Each department operating surveillance equipment prior to the effective date of this ordinance shall adopt written data management protocols consistent with SMC 14.18.30 no later than thirty days following the effective date of this ordinance and submit these protocols to the City Council for review and possible approval by ordinance.
A memo summarizing the proposal is included with the online agenda for tomorrow afternoon’s meeting; as is SOP for committee meetings, there will be a public-comment period, though it’s at the start of the meeting, not attached to any particular agenda item.
Regarding protocols with the now-installed waterfront cameras – so far, SPD has said only that their video files will be kept only for 30 days unless intercepted as possible crime evidence, and that access logs would be kept for 90 days. Who gets access to the video, for viewing and/or controlling the cameras, was to be decided by a multi-department steering committee whose members have not been disclosed.
We’ll be at tomorrow afternoon’s meeting; it’ll be live on the Seattle Channel, cable or online.
WSB coverage of the waterfront surveillance cameras, dating back to January 29th, is archived here, newest to oldest.