EFF sent a letter to the Santa Clara County Board suggesting ways to improve the proposed policy of that county’s Sheriff for use of body-worn cameras (BWCs). We did so with our allies the ACLU of California and the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

BWCs may help protect civil liberties, but only if they are adopted with robust community input and are subject to strong policies that ensure they promote police transparency and accountability. Without appropriate policies, BWCs may instead become another police tool of street-level surveillance.

Our letter addresses, among other issues, limits on when deputies may record at protests; discipline for deputies who fail to record their law enforcement activities, such as arrests or use of force; when deputies may review their BWC footage; when the Sheriff’s Office must release BWC footage to the public; and when BWC footage should be deleted.

We made our BWC suggestions pursuant to Santa Clara County’s Surveillance Technology Ordinance. This salutary law, enacted in June 2016, ensures community control of whether county government will adopt spying tools, and if so, what privacy safeguards are needed. Specifically, only the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors can approve new surveillance technologies, and it can only do so after giving the public notice and an opportunity to be heard. EFF supported this Santa Clara ordinance, and we support adoption of similar laws for BART, Oakland, and Palo Alto. In October 2016, EFF used this Santa Clara ordinance to seek changes to the Sheriff’s proposed policy for an Integrated Helicopter Mapping System.

EFF has opposed BWC rules that fail to protect privacy and advance police accountability. For example, EFF in September 2015 opposed the LAPD’s policies for BWCs. And last year, EFF opposed several California bills regarding BWCs.

Proposed BWC guidelines have been published by the ACLU, the Constitution Project, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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