Governing Body Approval
The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Acquiring and operating a new surveillance system is a policy choice – a significant one. Surveillance equipment is often costly to purchase, maintain, and upgrade, and it gives the agencies (and individual staff members) who use it a great deal of power to monitor the activities of others. As with any major policy choice, there should be public accountability for a decision to deploy advanced surveillance. Agencies interested in acquiring surveillance tools should get the approval of their elected governing body before doing so.
In addition to input from community forums and advice from experts and local leaders, there should be a standard and democratic process for approving the acquisition of surveillance technology. This ensures that everyone in the community who has ideas or concerns has an opportunity to voice them. It also ensures that the elected officials responsible for managing and overseeing local agencies have a clear idea of what the agencies will be doing with surveillance equipment.
In some instances it may be advisable for the governing body to adopt an ordinance with rules to regulate use of a new surveillance system. Often, the system can be approved through the normal budgetary process; In most jurisdictions, a specific line item in the local government budget appropriating money for a new system gives elected officials the opportunity to ask appropriate questions and community members the opportunity to comment. To ensure transparency, the governing body should adopt an ordinance that establishes a process for approving new surveillance technology, and a set of general parameters for how the technology should be used. (Find a model surveillance ordinance here.)
Developing policy, overseeing bureaucracies, and choosing how to spend public dollars is the job of elected leaders. The best way to ensure that surveillance technology is used in a fair, legal, transparent, and cost-effective way – if at all – is to ensure that it’s subject to the democratic process.
Questions to Ask:
- Have elected leaders had the opportunity to host, or participate in, the public forums that every community should hold when considering new surveillance infrastructure?
- Have elected leaders become familiar with how the technology under consideration works?
- Have elected leaders had the opportunity to review, revise, and approve legally-binding use policies for the technology under consideration?
- Has the governing body held hearings to determine the financial costs and weigh the risks of acquiring technology in order to gather public input?
- Will elected leaders have the opportunity to vote to approve or reject the acquisition of the technology?
- Will elected leaders have the opportunity to vote to approve or reject any changes to the use policies, any upgrades, or any ongoing costs?
Related Civil Liberties Concerns: