‘Strike the right balance’: Berkeley City Council to assess surveillance technology use Tuesday night

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Berkeley City Council will consider a proposal, submitted by the Police Review Commission, or PRC, to regulate the city’s use of surveillance technology at the council’s regular meeting Tuesday.

The surveillance technology proposal, if passed, would establish a public process in order to assess the implications of surveillance technologies before they are purchased or used. This process would require the council’s approval of new surveillance technologies, such as police body cameras, automated licence plate readers and the Fire Department’s thermal imaging technology.

“The ordinance is fundamentally a transparency initiative and really a kind of trust-building mechanism,” PRC commissioner Ari Yampolsky said. “It would have largely positive implications.”

The PRC recommends that the city adopt this ordinance, which is called the Surveillance Technology Use and Community Safety Ordinance, according to the agenda item.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he is a “passionate fan” of using technology to ensure safety and spread information but also stressed the importance of policies that protect citizens’ privacy.

“There’s fear among members of the public that we’ll have too much technology, and there’s fear on the part of the police that there will be too many restrictions,” Worthington said. “I think we have to strike the right balance.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, released a statement Friday in support of the ordinance, stating that surveillance technology can pose risks to freedom of expression. EFF is a nonprofit digital rights group based in San Francisco.

“The power to decide whether these tools are acquired, and how they are utilized, should not stand unilaterally with agency executives,” wrote Nathan Sheard, EFF grassroots advocacy organizer, in the statement. “Instead, elected City Council members should be empowered with the authority to consider and responsibly approve, or reject, surveillance technology.”

At the meeting, Mayor Jesse Arreguín will also outline his recommendations for the allocation of excess city funds. According to the agenda item, Arreguín suggests that the funds be used to “address a number of key community priorities” by expanding the city’s Winter Shelter program and creating affordable housing.

Contact Danielle Kaye at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.