The Seattle City Council will introduce a bill tomorrow that, in essence, smacks Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle Police Department for surreptitiously setting up a video surveillance program over the past few years. The bill, which is posted here, would require the council's approval for any new surveillance systems.
McGinn and the SPD had begun a drone program a few years ago in conjunction with the feds, without any public announcement or hearing, and without notifying the council—a program he rescinded after the council scrutinized the controversial program last month. McGinn had also set up a string of video cameras in West Seattle last fall. (UPDATE: This post previously said the council didn't know about these cameras in West Seattle. In fact, the council approved a grant for this program, but it's unclear the council or public realized at the time that the cameras had the capacity to monitor civilian activity on nearby streets and homes.) The Stranger recently wrote that the council should still pass legislation to restrict drones and the West Seattle cameras.
Introduced by Council Members Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell, the bill notes the "benefits of such technologies should be weighed against the potential downsides, including impacts on privacy." It would require city departments to obtain the council's approval—beginning in committee and the advancing to a full council for a vote—before acquiring surveillance equipment. Furthermore, the council would need to approve, in advance, how the equipment could be used, where it could be set up, the methods for storing the data, and who could access those data.
In short, the mayor and police department couldn't never launch another surveillance programs in secrecy—drones, cameras in parks, etc.—without it going through an extremely transparent process of vetting, public comment, and a high-profile vote.
Politically, this bill seems unstoppable, but I'm sure some crime-y types will bray that surveillance programs need to be launched in secret.