By Jan Bultmann, David Robinson, Phil Mocek, and Garrett Cobarr
2/18/2014 Post-Meeting update:
- Four Seattle Privacy members spoke to the Public Safety Committee (PSC) today.
- We submitted this document to the committee for inclusion in the public record.
- PSC did NOT vote on the bill today, but it will be re-introduced to full council on Monday 2/24.
- Full council will vote on it 3/10.
- In the meantime, we are marking up a copy of the policy document submitted by Seattle Police Department to Council, to give councilmembers an example of what a through independent technical review with an eye toward privacy and security would look like, and how useful it would be.
Here are background information and talking points for the 2/18/2014 2 pm meeting of the Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee (PSC).
In this post:
What is the legislation?
C.B. 117996 accepts an Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant in the amount of $1,645,955 under Federal Fiscal Year 2012 funding. The bill would approve acquisition of an arrest booking photo comparison database, and add a section to the Seattle Police Manual describing its proper use.
- Hold the legislation for further discussion, including a minimum of three public hearings in the evening when the public can attend.
- Make any amendments necessary to the operating surveillance ordinance (Ordinance 124142) that is already in effect BEFORE purchasing any more equipment.
- Explain what items SPD needs that the city is not able or willing to provide, and why we have not seen these items in budget proposals.
Need for Meaningful Council Oversight
- This is a police department that has been found to engage in *unconstitutional* behavior fully 20% of the time they use force.
- Council’s discussions with SPD at the table and dais appear sometimes to be with some other police force, not the one that we read about in DOJ and monitor reports.
- We get the impression that the the PSC is reluctant to question the assertions of SPD.
- In the past, SPD has used DHS grant money to purchase drones and surveillance cameras which public outcry has later forced them to shut down. Past behavior is predictor of future behavior.
- During all that time that unconstitutional force was being used, the Office of Police Accountability very rarely found wrongdoing. Investigations of allegations appear to be ineffective. We have reason to believe that if there are episodes of misconduct, little will be done and the public will be kept in the dark.
- SPD has earned distrust and strict oversight, and that is the job of the City Council and an informed public.
- SPD and City Council justify the acceptability of these systems by saying that “the ACLU and the Human Rights Commission were involved in review.” We hold that this level of review is utterly insufficient for funding of programs whose value has been thrown into grave doubt. It does not meet any objective measure of public input. We insist that council hold a minimum of three public hearings before accepting DHS money for SPD use.
Problem with the Booking Comparison System
- This system enables SPD to search records of many people who were never charged, much less convicted, of crime.
- As currently written, the policy could be changed at any time without notice to Council or the public. This PSC has talked about Ordinance 124142 as a safeguard, but that ordinance is weak, containing no language about compliance or penalties for noncompliance. We also know that the police introduced language that weakened it further at 5 pm the Friday before Council voted it through as amended Monday morning.
- We know that Councilmember Harrell plans to introduce an amendment to address the weakness of the operating surveillance ordinance (Ordinance 124142) in March, but we want to see that ordinance amended BEFORE any new equipment is purchased.
- Ordinance 124142 is now one year old and we have yet to see any record that any department has submitted privacy policies in compliance with it. The city has failed to follow its own law.
- The Booking Photo Comparison System policy defines a suspect as “a person whom an officer reasonably suspects may be involved in criminal activity.” That includes people who are never even arrested.
- “The database will contain only booking photos of individuals who have been arrested, fingerprinted, photographed and booked into an adult correctional facility in King, Pierce or Snohomish counties.” That includes people who are never charged with a crime.
- The Booking Photo Comparison System usage log will be audited annually by SPD’s Audit, Policy and Research. How will auditors verify that there was probable cause? Where will that information be logged for audits? What’s the enforcement mechanism?
- What’s to limit what photos will be dumped into the database? (For example, mention has been made of a WA Department of Licensing facial recognition database based on driver’s licenses.)
- What is the limit on where future additions to the database will come from?
- Allowing automation of policy activities takes it from somewhat acceptable to invasive and unacceptable. A human officer can fly a camera around, investigate license plates, and look at photographs. But we don’t want an army of police robots in the sky, on poles, in cameras in cars, following us all around and mining any photographs they can get for data, dumping it into a database that they may share with any number of county, state, and federal agencies.
- Example: May Day 2012 incident action plan where Sanford called for photos of all known “anarchists/criminals” and people who’d been arrested in Occupy protests
- Just as the NSA manipulated and misled Congress, SPD are likely to manipulate and mislead City Council. They will allow Council and the public to assume the best, while the police push to the limit of what they can get away with. They are rules-enforcers, not rights-protectors.
- We call on Council to think about potential purchases with consideration for just how bad it could be, not just concoct a rosy vision of how well it could go.
- Example: In documents released under public disclosure earlier this week we learned that city of Seattle built a radio receiver system so they can watch the (sometimes unencrypted) communications from the WSP’s flying infrared cameras, which we know to be used to monitor, for example, political demonstrations. Were Council aware of this system? (FLIR 380)
- Example: In August 2012 The Guardian reported that DHS paid $832,000 for a trial deployment of the Trapwire surveillance system in Seattle. Was Council aware of this system?
Timeline of events behind Council Bill 117996
December 2003 Initial version of this legislation is passed: Ordinance 121283, passed by the City Council on September 22, 2003, authorized the Seattle Police Department to apply for funding under FFY03 UASI Grant Award Programs I and II, authorized the Seattle Police Department to execute an agreement to partner with the State of Washington, King County, and other local jurisdictions to participate in UASI Grant Award Program II, and appropriated an initial allocation of funding under both grant programs for immediate needs of conducting vulnerability assessments and providing urgently needed equipment to City departments.
2004-2012 Variations on same legislation passed every single year without significant public debate for 10 years.
June 2013 Edward Snowden reveals NSA domestic spying programs.
February 5, 2014 SPD presented legislation to PSC, discussion.
February 19, 2014 PSC discussion.
February 24, 2014 Bill to be re-introduced.
March 10, 2014 Full council vote.