Every Californian from Yreka to Chula Vista, from Pismo Beach to Truckee, deserves a say in what types of surveillance technology are deployed in their communities and the governing policies for their use. They deserve a public process in which officials who are accountable to voters make the ultimate call about whether or not to acquire spy technology. The public deserves periodic updates from law enforcement officials about the impact of these technologies on public safety and civil liberties.
EFF has joined a statewide coalition to support S.B. 1186, a California bill introduced by Sen. Jerry Hill to enact baseline transparency measures for every police department, sheriff’s office, district attorney’s office, school district and state university public safety department, the California Highway Patrol, and California Department of Justice.
Too often, law enforcement makes unilateral decisions about surveillance equipment in the dark, driven by the sales pitches of vendors rather than an open dialogue about the public safety needs of the community. These actions can have severe consequences on our rights and government budgets.
The examples are plentiful. Rogue Calexico Police officers purchased advanced spy equipment with the alleged intent of intimidating city councilmembers and members of the public who were critical of the police. In the city of San Diego, the police launched an interconnected CCTV system that never functioned properly and was deemed a boondoggle in the local news. District attorneys and other law enforcement agencies around the state purchased and distributed insecure key-logging software to families.
When communities are involved in the process, governments make more balanced decisions about surveillance. Recently, in Culver City, San Pablo, and Alameda, residents successfully pushed back against expanded automated license plate reader (ALPR) surveillance thanks to legal requirements passed in 2015 that this technology come before city councils for public comment. Meanwhile, in Santa Clara County these transparency measures are already in place and have been improving community relations with law enforcement.
S.B. 1186 includes several key components:
- The bill covers a wide range of technologies, including cameras, ALPRs, cellsite simulators, GPS tracking, social media monitoring, predictive policing systems, body-worn camera, and biometric identification.
- Law enforcement agencies would be required to submit detailed use policies for technologies it intends to use or acquire.
- A governing body would have the power to decide whether or not to approve these policies and acquisitions, during a meeting where the public has an opportunity to comment.
- At least every two years, agencies would be required to submit a use report that details the cost, efficacy, and abuse of the equipment.
- Agencies would be prohibited from selling data collected by surveillance technology to private companies or sharing it with agencies not engaged in law enforcement
While the bill does give elected officials veto power over these technologies, it is not designed to be a prohibition on surveillance. Rather, it sets in place common-sense regulations that ensure that the community as a whole gets to decide, and that if these technologies are acquired, they are used responsibly.
In 2017, EFF supported Sen. Hill’s previous measure, S.B. 21, which passed out of the state Senate and two powerful Assembly committees before stalling in the Assembly committee that controls the budget. This year, S.B. 1186 would require even stronger community control, and it has even greater support from privacy and civil rights organizations.
Please join us in this campaign for surveillance oversight and tell your legislators to support this important measure.