On Tuesday, Oakland passed a new ordinance regulating the use of surveillance devices by the city. While it’s not the first municipality in the nation to do so, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are saying Oakland’s ordinance is the strongest one yet.
The bill is scheduled for a second reading by the council later this month, where it is expected to fully pass. Once it does, Oakland police and other city agencies will have to submit a “technology impact report” to Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission if they plan to implement new surveillance technologies, like license plate readers or cellphone trackers. While the East Bay Times reports similar restrictions have passed in Berkeley and Davis, Oakland’s goes even further in demanding police transparency.
“Oakland’s surveillance ordinance stands apart from the rest because it explicitly prohibits the non-disclosure agreements that surveillance vendors have used to keep residents in the dark,” Matt Cagle, a tech and civil liberties attorney with ACLU Northern California, told Gizmodo. “Going forward, this ordinance guarantees that if there’s a proposal for predictive policing or other AI-powered surveillance, Oaklanders will have a chance to have their voices heard,”
Not only does it require community approval for new technologies, it effectively bars police from implementing surveillance technology without informing citizens. In 2016, a Bloomberg report unearthed a secret police drone surveillance program in Boston that was carried out for months without public knowledge. Similarly, New Orleans’s use of predictive policing technologies wasn’t public knowledge until a Verge report.
Under the guise of public safety, police have implemented multiple surveillance technologies without full disclosure. Moves like this ordinance come as law enforcement agencies across the country are working with vendors to enormously enhance police officers capabilities with tech: from license plate databases that can track the movements of millions to AI-enabled body cameras that can archive and instantly search through countless hours of footage.
“California should champion statewide legislation that provides these protections to all residents,” Cagle said.