In response to growing concerns about government spying and personal privacy, Santa Clara County will study a proposal that would require public input before purchasing any surveillance tools.
According to a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, at least 90 law enforcement agencies in the state use surveillance technology, including license plate scanners, cameras and facial recognition software. Yet, those same agencies sought input only 14 percent of the time, the ACLU report states.
The study offers a glimpse of the tools that have transformed modern policing, such as cell phone trackers, body-worn cameras and drones. California agencies have spent upward of $65 million on 180 surveillance technology programs, the report states. Of that number, only 26 programs came up for public discussion.
The plan to regulate surveillance technology on the county level comes up for consideration at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The memo, signed by Supervisor Joe Simitian, asks for greater accountability in both acquiring surveillance equipment and managing the data it collects.
Simitian says the ACLU approached him several months ago to join in the project, which has enlisted the support of a broad coalition of elected officials. The group even provided a model ordinance to work with.
"We had worked together quite a bit when I was in the state legislature," Simtian said, noting that he served on the Select Committee on Privacy for both the State Assembly and State Senate.
"I've been working on these issues for the last decade and a half and what I've observed is an erosion of public privacy in an incremental fashion," Simtian said. "It's sort of drip, drip, drip."
“Just to be clear, do I think there's an appropriate use for license plate readers, closed circuit cameras and drone technology in the public arena? I absolutely do,” he continued. “Do I think there are a series of questions that need to be asked and answered before we use that technology? Absolutely.”
With enough public input, he says, the county can strike a balance.
"I don't think it's mutually exclusive,” said Simitian. “I think we can protect and respect people's privacy."
In addition to law enforcement concerns, Simitian said his memo is part of larger plan to bring attention to raise privacy concerns about all county work, including hospital and tax records.
Simitian’s memo asks for the county to draft a plan that would put in place more checks and balances before acquiring certain surveillance equipment. It would require all surveillance technology proposals to include an impact report, explaining the technology, its purpose, proposed deployment locations, monetary cost and potential impacts on civil liberties. It would also include a legally enforceable surveillance policy that limits when data can be accessed, who could see it and how long it’s stored.
"Candidly, when I arrived at the county I was surprised at the failure to consider privacy implications in all of the work the county did," he said.
- The late Victor Calvo, who served in the State Assembly from 1974 until 1980, will get a county building named after him. The Mountain View resident also served on that city’s council, the county Board of Supervisors, the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Coastal Commission.
- A minute after 4am Nov. 5, Santa Clara County became the last of Bay Area’s nine counties to come up with a total count of all precinct ballots. A website glitch prevented updated results around 9:30pm on election night. And a longtime IT manager for the Registrar of Voters resigned the day before Election Day, spurring the Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey to call for a review of election results by the Secretary of State. It was a mess. Simitian is calling for an internal review to pinpoint the procedural and technological problems that slowed things down. He suggests teaming up with the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership—which creates pro bono partnerships between public and private agencies—to figure out if there’s any interest from the local private sector in helping the county speed up the vote counts.
- The county will pay $4 million to increase water fluoridation in San Jose and some unincorporated areas.
- Bushey has submitted a preliminary plan to acquire a new, faster voting system. Although it may not be in place until 2017.
- The county is coming up with a plan to fill regulatory gaps in the wake of San Jose’s new medical marijuana ordinance. Things like, coming up with a program for the Department of Weights and Measures to manage THC-infused edibles manufactured here. And a program for the Department of Agriculture to regulate marijuana crops.
WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001
Josh Koehn contributed to this report.