Letter to Council re Surveillance Ordinance CB 118930

Today I sent the following email to the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, and New Americans Committee of Seattle City Council, speaking only for myself as an individual, not for the Seattle Privacy Coalition or board.

(The board is currently discussing possibilities for a unified position on this legislation that we could endorse as a group.)

I strongly encourage anyone interested in privacy to contact the committee with your own thoughts on this issue.

Dear Councilmembers Gonzales, Burgess, and Bagshaw,

I’m a 30-year resident of Seattle; I live in Councilmember Bagshaw’s district, and I work for Google in the cloud computing division. Previously I have worked for both Microsoft and Amazon on documenting online privacy and security issues.

I am the Chair of the Board of the Seattle Privacy Coalition, and I am a former LA to Councilmember Bagshaw and former Councilmember Sally J. Clark.

I’m writing to call on your committee to discuss and vote for the strongest possible version of the ACLU’s amendments to CB 118930, the Seattle Surveillance Ordinance, and to follow that by tackling the issue of strengthening protections from data-gathering software or hardware that is purchased for reasons other than surveillance.

I am absolutely opposed to council passing any version of this bill that fails to mandate oversight, reporting, auditing, and enforcement (enforcement through such mechanisms as the right to sue for privacy harms).

Finally, please be aware that even the strongest version of the amendments to the ordinance submitted by the ACLU address only a small subset of data-gathering technologies. The world of data-gathering is moving so quickly that technologies not purchased for the use of surveillance can easily become surveillance technology, particularly when information from multiple technologies is combined and shared.

This is an issue that urgently needs to be addressed, since we are now literally being pressured by the federal government to provide information on people for use in deporting them, while at the same time promising those same people that we will protect them as a sanctuary city.

The city must vigorously enforce its privacy program and hire an effective and committed Chief Privacy Officer as soon as possible.

I participated in an Electronic Frontier Foundation call last week in which grassroots activists from around the country discussed surveillance ordinances they are working to enact on municipal, county, and state levels. Seattle’s was cited as “well-intended, but weak.”

Please, help change how people talk about the hard work you do to protect Seattlites, so that they call this legislation “a brilliant model for other municipalities to follow,” instead.

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