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San Diego Surveillance Tech Now Under City Council Oversight

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On Tuesday, August 2, the San Diego City Council unanimously finalized a new Privacy and Technology Ordinance that would put the city’s surveillance technology under the city’s oversight.

The passage of the Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology Ordinance was the result of a three-year long effort by more than 30 community organizations that make up a coalition called TRUST SD (Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology San Diego). Coalition members drafted and proposed an ordinance after sounding the alarm about the dangers of deploying surveillance technology in the city.

The ordinance was drafted in 2019 after residents learned that the city installed a network of about 3,000 cameras on streetlights three years ago, and police used the technology to investigate certain types of crimes. Work has begun. Some residents expressed concern about potential violations of their liberties and over-policing, especially in communities of color.

San Diego is now the largest U.S. city to oversee the acquisition and use of surveillance technology, as well as inviting a community-led Privacy Advisory Board to review the city’s surveillance technology proposals.

The TRUST SD Coalition originally proposed the ordinance in 2020 and was unanimously approved by the San Diego City Council in November 2020. In June 2022, the ordinance was considered for final passage, but was amended instead. One controversial amendment would exempt the city’s federal task force activities from oversight. The newly amended ordinance received its first ballot in July 2022 and a final ballot this week.

Passage of the TRUST Oversight Oversight Ordinance will come in parallel with the creation of a community-led Privacy Advisory Board created by an ordinance created by the TRUST SD Coalition. approved by the city council. The new committee should strongly advocate for the community’s point of view when surveillance techniques are proposed. The Board includes seats for representatives of communities historically affected by surveillance.

These related ordinances provide important transparency and accountability for how the city acquires and operates surveillance technologies such as streetlight cameras, noise detection microphones, and body-worn cameras. Provides the framework for the San Diegans.

Importantly, the ordinance allowed the public to be involved in the decision to adopt surveillance technology. The ordinance requires the city to hold public meetings in the city council district where the technology will be deployed early in the process. Comments from the community should be communicated to the Privacy Advisory Board and City Council deliberations. Community members may also provide information about their use of technology at district meetings and Privacy Advisory Board meetings.

Since the ordinance was proposed in 2020, the TRUST SD Coalition has blocked the city’s use of controversial surveillance technology such as “smart streetlight” surveillance cameras and “Shotspotter” noise-detecting microphones. Surveillance The Surveillance Ordinance subjects these and other technologies, such as “ALPR” license plate location trackers, to public oversight advised by the Privacy Advisory Board. Finally, proposals to use these systems must be approved annually by the City Council.

The city should finalize the appointment of a Privacy Advisory Board so the board can begin reviewing the surveillance technology currently in use by the City of San Diego. According to the surveillance ordinance, the city has given him one year to transition all existing surveillance technology into the surveillance process.

Members of the Steering Committee of the TRUST SD Coalition issued the following statement:

Lilly Irani, Tech Workers Coalition and UC San Diego Professor, Communication & Design Lab

“This is one step to ensure that the technology meets the needs of the people, not the needs of profit-making tech companies or people experimenting with city dwellers. The next time we found funding for libraries stopped while funding was going on, more people stood up, understood the technology, united, and learned to say no. ”

Seth Hall, Technical Lead, San Diego

“Surveillance technology continues to be widely used in San Diego, but it is now under the oversight of elected officials and has nine seats at the decision-making table reserved for professional community members. The Coalition will closely monitor and remain liable if any stakeholder decides to violate the rights guaranteed to all San Diegans.The San Diego community will be controlled by this technology It should be controlled, not controlled.”

Genevieve Jones-Wright, Community Advocate for Fair and Ethical Governance (MoGo)

“These victories have been hard-fought by the community. They are perfect examples of how affected community members can and should participate as part of policy making. Without the vigilance of the City Council and the leadership of City Council Speaker Pro Tem Monica Montgomery Step, the city would still have disappointed San Diegan and its visitors.”

Khalid Alexander, Pillar of Community

“Over the past year, we have learned the importance of community oversight of technology and the existence of technologies that are increasingly intruding into our lives. These ordinances are important steps to avoid abuse.For the first time in San Diego history, elected officials with the community Smart officials will have the tools to help them make sense of these technologies, and hopefully avoid wasting government spending on shiny toys like “smart” streetlights. ”

Homayra Yusufi, Partnership for New American Progress (PANA)

“Our community is the community most affected by free surveillance technology, and we finally have the opportunity to participate in the discussion of the surveillance technology our city uses and acquires. It’s a step in the right direction to restore trust with our community and increase the transparency that’s so important to our democratic process.”

From TRUST SD news release and SDU-T