Privacy SOS

Victory! Somerville mayor issues new surveillance oversight and transparency policy

After working with the ACLU, ACLU supporters, and local allies like Digital Fourth in Somerville for over a year, Mayor Curtatone has released a new policy to ensure democratic oversight and transparency pertaining to surveillance technology acquisitions. The policy requires a three step process for oversight and transparency.

First, the Somerville Police Department and other City departments looking to acquire new surveillance tech must submit detailed information about what technology they want and how they plan to use it. They must send this information to the Mayor, at which point the information will be posted on the City’s website for public inspection. 

Second, Departments must obtain approval from the Board of Alderman to accept any grant monies or to spend City appropriations on the technology.

And third, the Mayor must approve or deny the requests for surveillance tools.

The policy additionally requires Departments to get Mayoral approval for operational protocols and privacy policies that will apply to any surveillance technology, before the tech is deployed or installed. Pursuant to the policy, the Somerville Police Department will soon publicly post its surveillance camera privacy and operational policies on the City’s website, as well as a list of the locations of every Department owned camera in the City.

With this step forward, Somerville becomes the first city in New England to adopt a transparency and oversight policy to govern surveillance technology acquisitions. It mustn’t be the last.

On October 18 at 6:30pm, Cambridge residents will have an opportunity to voice support for an ordinance that would require similar transparency and oversight to govern surveillance technology acquisitions. The ACLU has been working with the City Manger and City Council for over a year on the issue in Cambridge, and the hearing on the 18th will provide an opportunity for everyone in the community to get up to speed on those efforts. Equally important, members of the public will have the opportunity to make a public comment to the Council and the City Manager, encouraging them to continue working with the ACLU to ensure Cambridge passes a strong surveillance oversight ordinance. Please join us on October 18 to make your voice heard.

Local politics matters. Kudos to the Mayor of Somerville for leading on this important issue. Next, Cambridge!

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