The West Seattle Herald reports that Seattle’s City Council have unanimously (9-0) passed a bill that requires city departments to obtain Council approval prior to acquiring, installing, and accessing various surveillance video cameras within the city.
The bill is a result of the public outcry following the Seattle Police Department’s decision to install nine high definition video surveillance cameras along the Puget Sound shoreline without notifying citizens. The cameras, funded by a Homeland Security grant to monitor terrorist threats in the Puget Sound, are also able to swivel and watch the streets, which some claim is an invasion of privacy. Due to this feature, the bill requires that departments using security surveillance video equipment must devise “a public outreach plan for each community in which the department intends to use the surveillance equipment, that includes opportunity for public meetings, a public comment period and written agency response(s) to these comments.”
The bill also requires that security departments using high definition surveillance video cameras must present proper data explaining what kind of surveillance methods and video camera equipment they are using, and why. However, specific types of surveillance methods are exempt from the bill, including human-worn equipment (like digital audio recording and digital video recording devices), traffic cameras (automatic license plate readers), and drones or other unmanned aircraft.
Councilmember Bruce Harrel summed up the importance of the bill by saying, “The bottom line is we are going to have an open and transparent conversation whether surveillance equipment is used in this city. It will not be the sort of situation where residents, businesses and citizens wake up and find that Big Brother is indeed snooping upon their privacy rights.”
As more audio surveillance devices and video security cameras pop up in cities across the country, cases like this will become increasingly common. Seattle is trying to promote transparency in regards to security surveillance and preserving privacy rights for citizens.
UPDATE May 2018: These surveillance cameras were never put into use, and now will be taken down and “repurposed for use elsewhere in the city.” Removing them will cost $150,000.