Surveillance and the City
Gregory S. McNeal
Pepperdine University School of Law; Pepperdine University - School of Public Policy
January 1, 2015
Sophisticated surveillance equipment is finding its way to local police departments. From drones, to automated license plate readers, to surplus military equipment, police departments have been acquiring powerful technology, oftentimes without the direct oversight of the elected representatives who are supposed to oversee them. Perhaps more problematic, that equipment is collecting massive amounts of data, and it is unclear whether state and local governments have the capacity or desire to manage vast stores of information in a way that both protects privacy and is publicly accountable.
What should city council’s do? I will argue that hoping for reform through a court centric, warrant based approach is unworkable and counterproductive. Instead, governments should adopt a variety of transparency, accountability, and oversight centered methods of reform. Specifically, they should create duration based limits on persistent surveillance, enhanced data retention procedures, and implement new transparency and accountability measures. Cities should also recognize that while technology may create privacy harms, if regulated properly, it may be more protective of privacy than non-technologically enhanced surveillance methods. The article also recognizes that despite the potential benefits of new technology, the actual impact of new surveillance technologies may be one that disproportionately burdens minority communities.
The article explores six main questions. Will duration-based surveillance legislation that limits the aggregate amount of time the government may surveil a specific individual be more protective of rights than warrant based surveillance rules? How might data retention procedures (that require heightened levels of suspicion and increased procedural protections for accessing stored data) serve to protect privacy? What transparency and accountability measures will best ensure that government agencies are accountable? Will new technology, such as auto-redaction and accountability logs, make automated surveillance more protective of privacy than human surveillance? How can we ensure that new surveillance technologies do not disproportionately target certain communities? Do surveillance technologies require new forms of oversight?
Keywords: surveillance, public administration, civil liberties, targeting, drones, ALPR, big data
Date posted: March 2, 2015 ; Last revised: March 15, 2015