ACLU of Washington asks Spokane City Council to strengthen surveillance protections

With the Spokane City Council considering a new review process for implementing police surveillance technology, the ACLU of Washington has written a letter asking city officials to strengthen those protections in a recently proposed ordinance on the issue. 

Jamela Debelak, technology and liberty director with ACLU of Washington, says the civil liberties group applauds the council's efforts to monitor new police surveillance efforts. But they argue the city's proposed process leaves out some forms of surveillance such as red-light traffic cameras and automatic license plate readers.

"We believe that all devices capable of collecting information about the general public should be subject to a review process and have clear use guidelines created prior to their acquisition," Debelak writes in the letter dated today.

City Council President Ben Stuckart has introduced a proposal to have the council notified of drones and other new police surveillance technology. The Spokane Police Department would have to get approval before purchasing drones or other equipment. See the proposed ordinance below. 

"I think that as technology advances and surveillance advances and if other cities have had this problem, it's better to have this protection in place versus waiting for it to happen and then us be upset about police drones above us," Stuckart said during a Public Safety Committee meeting last month. 

The City Council is scheduled to take a first look at the ordinance during its meeting on Monday night. 

Debelak writes the ACLU would like to see Stuckart's ordinance expanded to include surveillance technology potentially outsourced to third-party services. The ACLU would also like protocols for addressing violations and annual reports on the approval process.

We wrote this week about the use of automatic license plate readers by local law enforcement agencies. The ACLU recently released a study, "You Are Being Tracked," outlining privacy concerns regarding the readers.

The ACLU of Washington has previously opposed efforts to put security cameras in downtown Spokane. The national organization has long resisted increased government surveillance efforts, arguing public surveillance and data-collection programs undermine personal freedom and privacy.

Regarding SPD plate readers, Stuckart says the units have proven very effective. He would not seek approval for existing units, but his ordinance could cover newer license plate readers down the road.

Heidi Groover contributed to this report. 

The ACLU's letter, Stuckart's proposed ordinance and an ACLU "model ordinance" can be viewed below:

ACLU of Washington letter to Spokane City Council

Spokane City Council Proposed Surveillance Ordinance

The ACLU also provided a model ordinance. View that PDF here.