Believe it or not, there’s some good news. The Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission, which is chaired by BORDC/DDF Patriot Award winner Brian Hofer, in January approved and passed to the Oakland City Council an ordinance that calls for close scrutiny of the city’s spy gear. “With a surveillance equipment ordinance, any of the existing equipment that Oakland might already have or any that is soon to come out will have to go through the vetting process,” said Hofer.
Among other things, the ordinance requires City Council approval of the purchase and use of new surveillance materials, the collection of data on surveillance use, and the examination of existing surveillance technology, such as license plate readers and stingrays. Each use of spy gear would be reported, and an annual report would be required. A user log, which would be viewable by the public, would be created.
We’ve talked before about the need for transparency around the use of surveillance gear, such as stingrays, or cell-site simulators, which are surveillance tools that imitate cellphone towers and intercept mobile phones. As Hofer said, “With the right software, these tools can also intercept content. They can listen to my phone. They can take text messages and see the pictures that I have.”
If the ordinance is passed by City Council, it will be a big step forward in ensuring that the civil rights of individuals are protected. It will also allow for future cost/benefit analyses of surveillance technology used in the city, to give law enforcement officials accurate information about how much their spy gear really helps them solve crimes.
It’s such a good ordinance, UC-Berkeley law professor Catherine Crump said it “has the potential to be adopted nationwide.” You can read the Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance here. The Oakland City Council will consider the ordinance in the next few months and we’ll let you know if and when they pass it.