Making Smart Decisions About Surveillance: A Guide for Communities

30 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2015  

Chris Conley

ACLU of Northern California

Matthew Cagle

ACLU of Northern California

Peter Bibring

ACLU

Jessica Farris

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Linda Lye

ACLU of Northern California

Mitra Ebadolahi

New York University School of Law

Nicole Ozer

ACLU of Northern California

Date Written: November 1, 2014

Abstract

California communities are increasingly grappling with whether to deploy new surveillance technologies ranging from drones to license plate readers to facial recognition. This is understandable, since public safety budgets are tight, technology vendors promise the ability to do more with less, and federal agencies or industry sponsors may even offer funding.

But surveillance can be both less effective and far more costly to local agencies and to the community at large than initially imagined, leaving communities saddled with long-term bills for surveillance that doesn't end up making the community safer. Surveillance can also be easily misused, leading to the erosion of community trust, bad press, and even costly lawsuits.

In the wake of the revelations about the National Security Agency’s rampant warrantless spying and the use of military equipment in Ferguson, Missouri to quell protests, communities are increasingly focused on the need for greater transparency, oversight, and accountability of surveillance and local policing. More than ever, people are aware of how billions of dollars in federal funding and equipment provided directly to law enforcement is circumventing normal democratic processes and preventing communities from thoroughly evaluating the costs and risks of surveillance. As a result, many community leaders and residents are no longer willing to heed local law enforcement’s call to “just trust us.”

Instead, leaders and residents want to know when and why surveillance is being considered, what it is intended to do, and what it will really cost — both in dollars and in individual rights — before taking any steps to seek funding or acquire or deploy surveillance technology. They also want to craft robust rules to ensure proper use, oversight, and accountability if surveillance is used. Unfortunately, few resources exist to help communities make thoughtful decisions about surveillance. That’s where this document comes in.

This first-of-its-kind guide provides step-by-step assistance to help communities ask and answer the right questions about surveillance. It includes case studies highlighting smart approaches and missteps to avoid. Because each community and each type of surveillance may present a different set of issues, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, this guide gives communities a flexible framework that policymakers, community members and law enforcement should use to properly evaluate a wide array of surveillance technologies and develop policies that provide transparency, oversight, and accountability. It also includes a Surveillance & Community Safety Ordinance that communities should adopt to ensure that the right process is followed every time.

Keywords: surveillance, drones, facial recognition, automatic license plate readers, data mining

Suggested Citation

Conley, Chris and Cagle, Matthew and Bibring, Peter and Farris, Jessica and Lye, Linda and Ebadolahi, Mitra and Ozer, Nicole, Making Smart Decisions About Surveillance: A Guide for Communities (November 1, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2581232 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2581232

Chris Conley

ACLU of Northern California ( email )

39 Drumm Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.dotrights@aclunc.org

Matthew Cagle

ACLU of Northern California ( email )

39 Drumm Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

Peter Bibring

ACLU ( email )

CA 94111
United States

Jessica Farris

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) ( email )

United States

Linda Lye

ACLU of Northern California ( email )

39 Drumm Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

Mitra Ebadolahi

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Nicole Ozer (Contact Author)

ACLU of Northern California ( email )

39 Drumm Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.aclunc.org/tech

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