Privacy SOS

Cambridge: Come out on October 18 to assert local control over surveillance!

The Boston Police Department bought three drones without informing the City Council or the people of Boston. Officers were seen testing a drone in a low-income, community of color in Jamaica Plain. The Department doesn’t have a privacy policy to govern the use of its drones. 

That’s exactly the wrong way to do local government. There’s a better way—and Cambridge residents have an opportunity on October 18 to get involved in the push for community control over police surveillance.

RSVP to attend the hearing: October 18, 2017, 6:30PM | Cambridge City Hall

In November 2016, the ACLU and Digital Fourth worked with Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen and Mayor Denise Simmons to introduce an ordinance that would require a public, democratic process and ongoing oversight of surveillance technology acquisitions by city departments like the police. In the intervening 11 months, the City of Seattle passed a new surveillance oversight ordinance, beefing up its prior law. In June 2016, Santa Clara County, California passed a similar local law. And right here in Massachusetts, just earlier this month, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone published an executive policy that requires transparency and mayoral approval before the police can acquire new surveillance tech. 

Officials in Cambridge have expressed a desire to come up with language for a surveillance oversight ordinance that will suit the unique needs and interests of the City and its agencies. We believe that working together, the people of Cambridge, the ACLU, other advocacy groups, the Cambridge City Council, and the City Solicitor’s office can agree to language that pulls the best parts from the existing Cambridge ordinance, the Seattle model, and the law that passed in Santa Clara County. 

On Wednesday, October 18 at 6:30pm, you’ll have an opportunity to tell the City and the City Council what you think. Why is a surveillance oversight and transparency ordinance important for Cambridge? What specific provisions do you want to see in an ordinance? 

At the ACLU, we have a pretty clear idea of what we want to see in a strong ordinance. The language should:

  • require the City Council to approve all new surveillance technology acquisition proposals;
  • provide opportunity for public debate and comment to inform the Council’s vote;
  • ensure that any policies and procedures that will govern the use of the technology are hashed out in public, before the technology is purchased or otherwise acquired;
  • incorporate not just surveillance technology hardware like cameras, drones, and cell phone tracking ‘stingrays,’ but also surveillance software like social media monitoring and facial recognition systems;
  • require agencies to report back to the City Council and the public about how they use their surveillance tools; and
  • create enforcement mechanisms to ensure ongoing accountability.

We’ll be at the hearing on Wednesday to lay out these issues for the City and the City Council. We hope you’ll come to give your thoughts during the public comment period. Working together, we believe Cambridge can come up with a surveillance oversight ordinance that places the smallest possible burden on government agencies while providing the maximum benefit to democracy and open governance. 

I hope to see you there.

© 2017 ACLU of Massachusetts.