California bill calls for police surveillance technology to be approved before use

February 1, 2017 - 

California may soon pass a third and more comprehensive measure that would provide greater public transparency for law enforcement’s use of surveillance technology, according to a report by State Scoop.

Sponsored by Senator Jerry Hill (D), California Senate Bill 21 would require all state law enforcement agencies to present for approval their planned use of any surveillance technologies at a government-led public hearing, such as city council.

Unlike SB 34 which relates to license plate readers, and SB 741 which involves stingrays, the new legislation would cover the complete spectrum of surveillance technology.

This includes facial recognition systems, social media scrubbers, portable surveillance cameras and video cameras, portable biometric scanners, radar systems, drones, stingrays and license plate readers.

Lobbying organization California Peace Officers Association (CPOA) has yet to take a stance on the bill, but it has shared with Senator Hill some “concerns” regarding the legislation’s language, said CPOA lobbyist and legislative representative Shaun Rundle.

He said that the use of surveillance technologies is often done in partnership with neighboring agencies or federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security. Therefore, revealing one agency’s use of the technology could also reveal other agencies usage.

“Nobody in law enforcement is opposed to transparency,” Rundle said. “Nobody is opposed to giving a report to their governing body of how they use the technology. Opening up to a public meeting, though, can be problematic when you’re exposing how you use certain technologies to potential criminals that may be out in the public that would have direct knowledge of how these things are used and try to get around it.”

The CPOA is also concerned that the legislation could impact time-sensitive police cases, according to police captain and CPOA spokesman Randy Fenn.

“Sometimes these things happen rather quickly and they’re incident-specific so we have something where we’re trying to track somebody or we’re trying to solve a crime or something that has occurred and now we’re needing to get something rather quickly and this would slow that down considerably,” Fenn said.

He added that existing state transparency laws such as the California Public Records Act already enable the public to obtain records on law enforcement’s use of surveillance technology.

However, the new legislation would ensure that the public was notified of any potential surveillance technology use beforehand, which would enable the community to prevent its implementation if they do not approve.

CPOA said it would continue its talks with the senator to achieve a “a balanced solution that will work for everybody.”

If the bill is approved, the law would begin July 1, 2018.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.