The Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) is scrapping plans to test persistent aerial surveillance technology following criticism from privacy advocates. This kind of technology has prompted privacy concerns in others cities, with Baltimore being perhaps the most notable. One of the best-known aerial surveillance companies allows users to keep a roughly 25 square mile area under surveillance and comes with “Google Earth with TiVo” capability, The news from Miami-Dade county. while reassuring, underlines a number of issues concerning federalism, privacy, and transparency that lawmakers must tackle as aerial surveillance tools improve and proliferate.
The San Jose City Council is considering a proposal to install over 39,000 “smart streetlights.” A pilot program is already underway. These smart streetlights are not themselves a surveillance technology. But they have ports on top that, in the future, could accommodate surveillance technology, such as video cameras and microphones. EFF and our allies sent a letter to the San Jose City Council urging them to adopt an ordinance to ensure democratic control of all of that community’s surveillance technology decisions—including whether to plug spy cameras into the ports of smart streetlights.
Privacy experts are keeping a close watch on the case of a Bentonville, Arkansas, man who was charged with murder after prosecutors obtained a warrant to receive data from his Amazon Echo, a voice-activated device that is always listening and often recording. James Andrew Bates says he’s innocent of the murder of Victor Collins, who was found strangled in Bates’s hot tub. Prosecutors hope to search audio recordings on Bates’s Amazon Echo for clues. So far, lawyers for Amazon have refused to comply with the warrant, but the case has drawn national attention and alarmed civil liberties groups. We speak with Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
A city councilor wants to deploy drones to monitor high-crime neighborhoods and provide an extra measure of security at major community events – an idea that raises privacy concerns with the ACLU of Massachusetts. Brian K. Gomes’ proposal, which is not expected to be heard until next month or possibly January, calls for a meeting between the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhoods and Police Chief Joseph C. Cordeiro to discuss the use of drones. “I think it can be a crime fighter, undercover surveillance in neighborhoods across the city where we have problems,” Gomes said. “It’s another tool for the Police Department to fight crime.”
Marke “Hoot” Gibson, the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said two of the biggest issues facing the FAA related to unmanned aviation systems, or drones, are privacy and preemption. Gibson said the FAA is not in the business of dealing with privacy, but there is a long history of case law dealing with traditional aviation. “However, it has generally dealt with noise and airports —this is personal use— it comes right in your back yard,” he said, referring to unmanned aircraft.
Sacramento —like New York, Houston, Miami, St. Louis, and other cities before it— is looking at the next step: the launch in October of a “real-time crime center,” a central location from which officers could monitor all their existing surveillance technologies, PODs included. The idea is that consolidating information about criminal activity —from stalking complaints to potential lone wolf terrorist attacks— would make law enforcement more effective at investigating and perhaps preventing some incidents. The process would also promote accountability and transparency at a time of rising tension between police and the black community, providing evidence of both police and suspect behavior during tense encounters, proponents say.
When Sharp Grossmont Hospital (San Deigo, CA) officials realized anesthesia drugs were disappearing from surgery carts, they turned to video surveillance to catch those responsible. In the process, they also captured many images of women undergoing surgery. The video surveillance has raised questions about patient privacy and how well the hospital managed its storage of dangerous drugs.
A dispute in Massena, NY, going back to August over the installation of cameras in the Town Hall has been settled. Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said that officials wanted to install cameras in public buildings to ensure the safety of employees as well as visitors. But Mickey S. Smith, business agent for the Teamsters Union Local 687, questioned why cameras would be put in areas not accessible to members of the public.
As we have been following on SecurityHive.com, the use as evidence of video surveillance of a camera pointed at the front of a home (or business) from a "public vantage point" is working its way through the courts. Where an Appeals Court had previous allowed such evidence, now a judge has ruled that such evidence gathering activities violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As posted on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website: The public got an early holiday gift today when a federal court agreed with us that six weeks of continually video recording the frontyard of someone’s home without a search warrant violates the Fourth Amendment.
The ACLU recently released a report regarding how security and surveillance cameras and recordings are beginning to erode at civil liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California recently launched a statewide campaign to ensure that public debate, oversight, and accountability precede the acquisition of surveillance technologies by law enforcement agencies. Counties and cities across California have spent in excess of $60 million on invasive surveillance technology, and only five of 90 communities studied held a public debate each time they introduced a new element, according to the ACLU report released Nov. 12.