NEW YORK — Local officials in 11 cities announced today that they are launching legislative efforts to bring transparency to the acquisition and use of local police surveillance technologies for the first time. The measures include mandating explicit city council approval and a public hearing process that maximizes community input into surveillance technology decisions. This locally-led, multi-city effort was developed in partnership with 17 highly-diverse national partner organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Campaign Zero, and the Tenth Amendment Center.


A ‘nest’ of surveillance cameras. (Wikipedia)

In the rare cases where local police data has been available to the public — in cities like Baltimore, Maryland; Oakland, California; and Lansing, Michigan — the data has shown a disproportionate use of surveillance technologies in communities of color and low-income areas. The partner organizations have created a set of guiding principles to assist community groups in changing surveillance practices. The principles aim to promote transparency, democratic decision making, and community empowerment with respect to if and how surveillance technologies are funded, acquired, and used.

The first wave of cities announcing legislative efforts today are:

Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Madison, Wisconsin

Miami Beach, Florida

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Muskegon, Michigan

New York, New York

Palo Alto, California

Pensacola, Florida

Richmond, Virginia

Seattle, Washington

Washington, D.C.

“The use of surveillance by local police has been spreading unchecked across the country without regard for the communities that they purport to serve,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Today communities and their local elected officials are taking action to address the disparate impact, financial burden, and threats to civil rights and liberties posed by invasive surveillance technologies.”

French company Malou Tech's "Army" speed drone mounted with a Go pro Hero3 during a demonstration flight in La Queue-en-Brie, east of Paris, France, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. For months, France has faced dozens of drone overflights over sensitive sites — mostly nuclear facilities, a worrisome development in a country that gets the highest percentage of its energy in the world from atomic power. France wants to monitor and detect intruding drones and their remote-control pilots; analyze and track their flight paths; and ultimately neutralize the drones — either temporarily or permanently — with the least collateral damage possible. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Drones with cameras may be the future of surveillance tools for local law enforcement agencies. (Francois Mori / AP)

“Local police surveillance technologies, which are disproportionately focused on African Americans and other people of color, are hurting our communities and undercutting the trust necessary for law enforcement to be effective. These technologies are invading our public spaces and creating a culture of fear,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and its senior vice president for advocacy and policy. “We need to maximize the active engagement and influence our local communities have over surveillance technology decision-making. This first wave of legislative efforts being taken today across the country is a critical first step to moving local surveillance out of the shadows, ensuring transparency and accountability, and protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

“People of color have long been the targets of government surveillance — but today’s technology makes it more concerning than ever,” said Alvaro Bedoya, founder and executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center. “Communities are being confronted with the very real possibility that law enforcement is tracking them wherever they go — at work, school, places of worship and political gatherings. People need to feel safe in their neighborhoods, and this new effort is an important step in the process of taking back control.”

This surge of legislative action, which is expected to be replicated in an increasing number of cities across the nation, is guided by the following principles:

  • Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without express city council approval.
  • Local communities should play a significant and meaningful role in determining if and how surveillance technologies are funded, acquired, or used.
  • The process for considering the use of surveillance technologies should be transparent and well-informed.
  • The use of surveillance technologies should not be approved generally; approvals, if provided, should be for specific technologies and specific, limited uses.
  • Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without addressing their potential impact on civil rights and civil liberties.
  • Surveillance technologies should not be funded, acquired, or used without considering their financial impact.
  • To verify legal compliance, surveillance technology use and deployment data should be reported publically on an annual basis.
  • City council approval should be required for all surveillance technologies and uses; there should be no “grandfathering” for technologies currently in use.

The national partners in this effort are:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation

Campaign Zero

Center for Democracy & Technology

Center for Popular Democracy

Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Crypto Harlem

Demand Progress

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Fight for the Future

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Million Hoodies Movement for Justice

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

National Network of Arab American Communities

Restore the Fourth

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Tenth Amendment Center

Additional resources and information can be found here: