Engage the Community
Communities are increasingly concerned about making sure that time, energy and resources are not spent on expensive, ineffective and overly intrusive surveillance systems that create more problems than they solve. That’s why public transparency and engagement are key to any decision about whether to use surveillance technology.
- Are the purposes for which government needs the technology clearly defined?
- Which communities will be most impacted by the use of this technology?
- Which organizations or individuals are most likely to have strong positive or negative feelings about using this technology for law enforcement?
- Who has technological, legal, financial, or other technical expertise that could be useful in developing use policies and estimating long-term costs?
- How can government reach all the community members who might be interested?
- Have elected policymakers been given enough time to consult with their constituents and advisers?
- Has the public enough technical information to provide meaningful input?
Examples of Use
- Location::Los Angeles, CACitizens Privacy Council formed in California city
The City of Redlands, CA, has created a permanent Citizens Privacy Council to review the use of surveillance tools by the police department. Composed entirely of volunteers, the council meets monthly to review the surveillance activities of the Redlands Police Department and discuss their impact on privacy, civil rights, and public safety. Based on those discussions, the council advises the police chief and public on surveillance use policies and other means of protecting the privacy of innocent people. The council is open to anyone, and has served as both a voice for the community and a valuable means of helping the police department engage the public on surveillance issues. If government intends to invest in advanced surveillance technology, it may make sense to create an independent citizens’ committee that is empowered to call public meetings, review surveillance activities, comment on surveillance use policies, and advise law enforcement officials and elected leaders.
- Location::Los Angeles, CAHomeland security grants: not just for homeland security anymore
When the Los Angeles Police Department applied for a Department of Homeland Security grant to purchase a StingRay, a electronic surveillance tool that vacuums up data from cell phones in its vicinity, it promised that it would use the device for “regional terrorism investigations.” However, a public records investigation by the California First Amendment Coalition found that during a single-four month period in 2012, the LAPD used the device 21 times in ordinary, local drug investigations. In fact, the records show that in 2013, the LAPD used the StingRay in 13 percent of all of its “cellular phone investigations.” Increasingly, privacy advocates and elected officials regard local departments’ claims that they need advanced equipment to fight terror with skepticism. As one Keene, NH, city councilor told the Boston Globe, “Our application [for money to buy an armored personnel carrier] talked about the danger of domestic terrorism, but that’s just something you put in the grant application to get the money.”