It’s Not Easy to Control the Use of Tech Police – Even With a Law

In 2018, Oakland enacted a new law that gives citizens a voice in police use of surveillance technology. The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls it “the new gold standard of community control in police surveillance. ”Since then, about 20 more municipalities have adopted similar laws.

Now, Brian Hofer, one of Oakland’s law architects, says it doesn’t work. Earlier this month, Hofer filed charges against the city and police department, who said they had always broken the law.

“We don’t care about human nature,” Hofer said in an interview. “The police do not want to be transparent. The use of surveillance technology by design is covert, and no self-interested party will voluntarily highlight any negatives about their own proposal.” A spokesman said. the Oakland Police Department said it had no comment on ongoing legal matters.

Even in Oakland, however, the law gives critics of police surveillance a platform. In fact, Hofer sued under a provision of law that allows citizens to take the town to court. He hopes it will lead to the appointment of an independent consultant to review police department data and review surveillance tech.

“Like any law, [the surveillance ordinance] should be enforced, “said Matt Cagle, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Technology and Civil Liberties Program in Northern California.” Why it’s so good to see people in Oakland and San Francisco using it to bring police to court . “

A national review of the laws – called CCOPS, for Community Control of Police Surveillance – suggests other small achievements. In Nashville, opposition from a community group made such a law halted – at least temporarily – a proposal for the city to purchase automated plate readers.

Laws vary in their details. Others require regular meetings between police and community members, annual audits for effectiveness and potential bias, greater transparency among vendors and cost taxpayers of any new tech, and a period of public comment before buying new tech like the body camera or ShotSpotter, which uses a microphone to detect the gunshot.

In a student white paper Released last year, the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley School of Law says most ordinances are weaker than Oakland’s. New York City and Grand Rapids did not empower citizens to file suit, as Oakland did. In six jurisdictions, including Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Palo Alto, California, police are not covered by the laws. Even if a library or school must allow for public comment for new surveillance equipment, police will not be subject to bans if they are enforcing an order or responding to a crisis.

Most cities provide police with wide latitude to use surveillance tech during “faster conditions.” Students Tyler Takemoto and Ari Chivukula, authors of the white paper, say it could create loopholes in citizen governance.

“We know that different local governments have considered, for example, racial justice uprisings last summer to fall into that category of dismissal staff status,” Takemoto said.

Recognizing that there is no perfect combination of rules, the authors propose such ordinances that empower citizens to sue and create independent bodies to monitor the police and provide support. “Perhaps the most important thing is outside advice… a local non -business or community group that will continue to exchange,” Chivukula said. “If you don’t have public information, there’s no pressure.”

Oakland’s movement toward a police vigilance movement began in 2014, when groups including the ACLU and EFF protested the proposed “Domain Awcious Center,” a fusion center that combines microphones, CCTV, and data to spy.

Originally designed for port security, the city is in the process of approving a city expansion. Advocacy groups have successfully campaigned to cancel the expansion and create a temporary privacy committee to write policies for the use of technology in the city. This became an early iteration of the CCOPS model.

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