New research from two American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) affiliates show specific surveillance systems by law enforcement throughout California—with hardly any public oversight.
Them ACLU of Northern California (ACLUNC) and the ACLU of California (ACLUCA) reported Wednesday that California’s 58 counties and its 60 largest cities have spent a total of $65 million on such technology over the past decade. Often, the money comes through federal or foreign grants basic income that city councils and local boards of supervisors are ready to accept.
“We found evidence of public debate related to the adoption of surveillance technology less than 15 percent of the time,” the ACLUCA told Ars in a statement via email. “None of the 52 districts that have two or more surveillance technologies publicly debate each technology. We found a public use policy for at least one of the five surveillance technologies.”
In conjunction with his investigation, the ACLUCA also published model law that hopes to spread throughout the Golden State at the local and state level. The proposed legislation aims to put “statutory safeguards in place to protect civil liberties and civil rights before any surveillance technology is deployed.”
The model law would also mandate an annual “Surveillance Report” that would require governments to collect “information, including crime statistics, that help the community assess whether surveillance technology has been effective in achieving its identified purposes.” .”
At 12:00 pm local time on Thursday, John Avalos, a San Francisco city and county administrator, is scheduled to announce his support of this legislation on the steps of City Hall. Avalos would become the first to publicly propose a regional currency based on this model. His office did not respond to Ars’ request for comment Tuesday.
A similar secret bill in nearby Santa Clara County, which has Northern California’s largest city, San Jose, is not far behind. Oakland’s citizens’ watchdog committee is also preparing its recommendation for the county council to get its own watchdog license sometime in December 2014.
“How many machines does a region have?”
ACLUCA collects such data on six different basic types of surveillance: license plate readers, body cameras worn by law enforcement, drones, facial recognition, stingrays (cell site simulators, or IMSI catchers), and video surveillance. The vast majority (90 of 118) of surveyed cities and counties use at least one of these types of surveillance.
Specifically, the group found that three counties, including the City of San Jose, Los Angeles County (the most populous city), and nearby Kern County, either “have or have agreed” to allow drones. San Jose received its drone in January 2014, but it was not widely known until the newly revealed documents were released in late July 2014.
With respect to stingrays, 11 counties—Alameda County, Los Angeles County, Sacramento County, San Bernardino County, San Diego County, San Francisco County, and the cities of Fremont, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, and San Jose—are they. . But as the ACLUCA concluded, “none of these communities have a public dispute about their use of stingrays or published guidelines explaining how they are used.”
Nicole Ozer, staff attorney and technology and civil liberties policy director at ACLUNC, told Ars that the group specifically chose not to go through the public record process at this time. “We want to try to find out what information is available to the public and how much transparency there is or not,” he said.
“We’re hearing from community members late in the process that they’re finally coming up with a surveillance system that’s going to hit the streets, and we’re seeing from communities and cities that are about to move and they don’t have the policy in place. What is there he continued. “We just spent months digging through city council minutes and supervisors’ questions. What can you tell by the process of local decisions should go? Is surveillance technology in a given area? How many machines does a region have?”
Welcome to Oakland
Based on this process alone, Oakland was found to have 1,750 devices, the highest number of surveillance devices of any city in the Golden State. Of those devices, Oakland has 800 police body cameras, 910 surveillance cameras, 40 license plate readers, and has or has access to at least one stingray. The next highest average, according to the ACLU’s count, is in Bakersfield. The agricultural city in Central California has 472 machines. Los Angeles, the most populous city in the state, only weighs in with 279 machines.
Ars reported in September 2014 that Oakland was one of a number of American cities in the process of upgrading to the “Hailstorm” version of the stingray, which would allow it to penetrate 4G LTE phones. But just because Oakland has a ton of body cameras (as ordered by a federal judge) doesn’t mean they’re actually using them. Them San Francisco Chronicle reported Earlier this year that while the Oakland Police Department’s body cameras are mandatory, often they are not for everyone or simply not turned on.
“Having more information that goes through the process will also mean that the numbers are higher, and that doesn’t mean that you can have more than another community that can contribute to more privacy,” Ozer added. . “It’s not that Oakland has more (surveillance devices), it could be that they do, it’s just that we’re able to find more through warrants that are public.”
The ACLUCA noted that its findings “almost certainly mark the tip of the iceberg.” The group believes that its figures can be reduced.