In 2018, Oakland Has enacted an innovative law to give citizens a voice in the use of police surveillance technology. The Electronic Frontier Foundation called it the “new gold standard in the control of the community under police surveillance.” Since then, about 20 other cities have adopted the same law.
Now, Brian Hoffer, one of Oakland’s law architects, says it’s not working. Earlier this month, Hoffer filed a lawsuit against the city and police department, alleging that they had repeatedly violated the law.
“We have ignored human nature,” Hoffer said in an interview. “The police do not like to be transparent. The use of surveillance technology is concealed by design, and no self-interested party is willing to voluntarily highlight anything negative about their own proposal. A spokesman for the Oakland Police Department said it did not comment on ongoing legal issues.
Even in Oakland, the law has given critics of police surveillance a platform. In fact, Hoffer sued under a provision of the law that allows citizens to take the city to court. He hopes it will lead to the appointment of an independent consultant to review the police department’s information and evaluate surveillance technology.
“Like any law, [the surveillance ordinance] “That’s why it’s so good to see people in Oakland and San Francisco using it to take police to court,” said Matt Cagle, an attorney for the Technology and Civil Liberties Program at the ACLU in Northern California.
A national review of laws for community control of police surveillance – dubbed CCOPS – suggests other small successes. In Nashville, opposition from a community group created by such a law ceases – at least temporarily, to offer to buy an automated license plate reader for the city.
The laws change them precisely. Some require regular meetings between police and community members, annual audits for effectiveness and potential bias, greater transparency of vendors, and taxpayers’ costs of any new technology and public comments before buying new technology such as body cameras or shotspots, which use microphones to identify shots. By
In a student white paper published earlier this year, the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the Berkeley School of Law said many ordinances were weaker than Oakland. New York City and Grand Rapids do not give citizens the power to sue, as Oakland does. Police have been exempted from the rule in six jurisdictions, including Cambridge, Massachusetts and Palo Alto, California. So while a library or school should be allowed to make public comments for new surveillance equipment, the police are exempt from the ban if they are executing a warrant or responding to a crisis.
Most cities give police a wide latitude to use surveillance technology in “emergencies.” White paper authors Tyler Tekmoto and Ori Chivukular students say it could create gaps in citizen oversight.
“We know that various local governments took into account the coup d’tat of ethnic justice last summer, which falls under augmented conditions,” Tekmoto said.
Acknowledging that there is no perfect combination of rules, the authors of such ordinances give citizens the power to sue and to create independent bodies to provide supervision and assistance to the police. “Perhaps the most important thing is outside advice … a local nonprofit or community group that will be employed,” Chivukula said. “If you don’t have public engagement, there’s no pressure.”
The movement for police surveillance in Oakland began in 2014, when groups including the ACLU and the EFF protested the proposed “domain awareness center”, a fusion center featuring microphones, CCTV and surveillance data.
First created for port security, the city was moving towards approving citywide expansion. The advocacy group successfully campaigned for the cancellation of the expansion and the creation of a temporary privacy committee that would write policies for the use of the city’s technology. This became the initial iteration of the CCOPS model.