Update: Council committee discusses surveillance-policy proposal

(UPDATED Thursday with clarification of proposal’s status)

(Archived Seattle Channel video of this afternoon’s committee meeting)
The City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee decided this afternoon to delay by a week its vote on a proposal to regulate how the city procures and uses surveillance systems.

The delay was attributed mostly to revisions made, and considered, via input including opinions of interested parties such as the city’s Human Rights Commission and the ACLU. Representatives of both were among those who spoke during the public-comment period that opened the committee’s meeting this afternoon; in general, most speakers said they were glad to see councilmembers acknowledge there need to be some rules and guidelines regarding how the city uses this technology. Council staffer Christa Valles made it clear that this proposal – CB 117730, as noted in our preview early Tuesday – does not set the rules for how any specific system might be used, but rather sets the parameters for what kind of rules need to be in place before a system can be planned or deployed. The Human Rights Commission’s main concern is that citizens’ “private right of action” be protected – so they can file a complaint if they are a “victim of surveillance.”

The committee also heard from citizen watchdog Phil Mocek, who has provided and sought information (including participation in WSB comment discussions) since our first report on the “waterfront” cameras that Seattle Police installed unannounced, but have not yet activated. Among other points, Mocek said that the proposed policy is important because the agencies using surveillance should not be the same ones overseeing it. Other speaking included a man who identified himself as a security/privacy/anonymity researcher and lauded the city for “leading in this type of transparency”; a man who identified himself as a drone hobbyist; and a man who expressed concern about the city’s school-zone-speed cameras (one of which is in West Seattle, near Gatewood Elementary).

SPD Assistant Chief Clark Kimerer was at the table with councilmembers and staff for the discussion, but no new details of the “port security” camera project were discussed or inquired about – aside from an agreement that if this proposal is passed, it will apply to the system, even though many of its ~30 cameras are already installed. He also acknowledged that this is precedent-setting because the department previously was responsible for policies using this kind of equipment, but now, it will be vetted by the Council.

Councilmember Licata noted that they want to work with all city departments – not just SPD. And he pointed out that “management of the data is as important as anything else.” That includes the users’ logs that will be required, pointed out Valles when Councilmember Mike O’Brien said it would be important to know who’s accessing the surveillance video. O’Brien also wondered about protocol for uses of cameras installed with other intents, like traffic cameras: “We could pretty much wind up as a city where you’re under surveillance for anything.”

There was also agreement that even the language they are working on now may be obsolete soon, as technology continues to evolve – this was pointed out by Council President Sally Clark, who was on hand though she is not an official member of the committee.

Meantime, we’re still awaiting word of public forums about the new system, for which Mayor McGinn promised a “thorough public vetting” before the green light would be given to activate it.

THURSDAY NIGHT ADDENDUM: As noted by Phil Mocek in comments, the one-week delay is actually in the planned movement of the bill from committee to full council. Often, a bill approved by a committee will go to the full council the following Monday; in this case, while the bill is still being amended, it is expected to go to the full council no sooner than March 18th, a week from Monday. You can check its status here – technically still listed as “in committee” as of this writing.

11 Replies to "Update: Council committee discusses surveillance-policy proposal"

  • Will March 6, 2013 (10:21 pm)

    Please tune in to the Seattle Channel on Friday 7pm for more on this topic.

  • Phil Mocek March 6, 2013 (10:33 pm)

    I offered in writing lots of suggestions for tightening up the language of the bill, and I would like to see it go further, but I’m fully supportive of it even as-is. It’s great to see our elected representatives listening to the concerns we express and writing laws that address those concerns effectively and in a manner to which no one involved seems particularly opposed. Of course we and our representatives should vet the acquisition and use of equipment with such a high potential for abuse.

    The “man who identified himself as a security/privacy/anonymity researcher” is familiar with government surveillance, much of it from personal experience, and with targeted harassment from law enforcement agents.

  • Phil Mocek March 6, 2013 (10:35 pm)

    Council members said at today’s meeting that they believe regulations in this bill, if passed, will effect the cameras SPD sneaked onto Alki Beach.

  • ChrisW March 6, 2013 (11:37 pm)

    Thank you WSB. Thank you, Mr. Mocek.

  • bs March 6, 2013 (11:46 pm)

    Phil, Thank You for the dedication to our privacy rights. Some of us really do appreciate it!

  • Condenast March 7, 2013 (11:06 am)

    Phil I wanted to also extend my thanks, for your efforts.

    It would appear that the “thorough public vetting” of said cameras will never take place, sadly.

    I’ll be voting for different councilmen/women. It’s too bad our law enforcement officials aren’t elected officials… However, we can give McGinn, Satterberg, and Holmes the proverbial boot. A clear message must be sent, regarding the myriad of failures and ineptitude by our local govt.

  • CE March 7, 2013 (3:20 pm)

    Let’s apply pressure to our elected officials to ask for a permanent shelving of the drones. From what I understood at the first council meeting on the cameras, the program is just temporarily shelved awaiting a study on their usefulness which the UW is planning to do. Considering what we have in the news today about the federal government’s rights to use drones on American soil against Americans they deem to be imminent terrorist threats, drones in Seattle are extremely troubling.

  • S March 7, 2013 (3:56 pm)

    @CE and everyone else

    You cannot stop technology from happening. This (Drones) are a tool that will benefit SPD and us a people that live in Seattle. This also goes for any other technology that is being used and put in.

  • Phil Mocek March 7, 2013 (5:01 pm)

    Tracy wrote that the Council PSCRT Committee “decided this afternoon to delay by a week its vote.” That’s what I thought happened, as well, but we were mistaken. The bill passed out of committee and will be discussed, and likely voted on, at the full council meeting at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, March 18, 2013.

    • WSB March 7, 2013 (5:42 pm)

      Thanks, Phil – I will go back to the meeting video later before contacting council assistants to ask why it sounded like (a) but turned out to be (b) – did they go back at the end? or pass it on without a vote? Hmm.

  • ROBERT March 9, 2013 (8:03 am)


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