Seattle Police surveillance cameras: even after FOIA request fulfilled, important questions remain

Map of surveillance camera placement

Madison Ruppert
Activist Post

Even after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was fulfilled by the Seattle Police Department, massive questions remain unanswered about their plans to activate an expansive surveillance camera network – though it appears to be far short of systems like SkyCop.

Thankfully, the SPD’s attempt to put the cameras in place was met with a great deal of criticism from the community, much like their planned drone program. If the successful effort to shut down the department’s drone program is any indicator, we can be optimistic about this newest surveillance system.

The surveillance system – much like those in New York City, San Francisco and elsewhere, including ones placed directly in front of residences – was installed without public input, according to an article by The Seattle Times.

While the SPD originally planned on having the system activated by March 31, 2013, the public outcry led to an indefinite delay.

The system was originally described as “port security” during a May 2012 city council meeting discussing the $5 million grant funding the program, but this is clearly not restricted to port security, as shown by a map obtained via FOIA request.

Furthermore, West Seattle Blog points out that “police also have talked about other ways they, Seattle Fire, and others plan to use the camera system in developing public-safety situations” beyond the port security application.

At a March 12 public meeting, SPD also indicated that they may post images captured from the cameras publicly online with frames refreshing around every two minutes.

Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn told West Seattle Blog that the surveillance system “will not be operated without a thorough public vetting,” but what that vetting will actually entail remains a mystery.

Thus far “it has consisted of a briefing before the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee on February 20th (WSB coverage here), a briefing at the Alki Community Council‘s February 21st board meeting (WSB coverage here), an SPD-led briefing/Q-A session at Alki Bathhouse on March 12th (WSB coverage here, with video of the entire meeting), and a similar session one week later at Belltown Community Center.”

Audio for the latest meeting on March 19 can be heard here and more meetings organized by the SPD are yet to come, according to Aaron Pickus, a spokesman or the mayor’s office.

A police diagram obtained via FOIA request seems to indicate that the video captured by the system will also go to a fusion center, which is hardly surprising given the $5 million grant came from the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition to the yet-to-be-scheduled public meetings, the public is still waiting for SPD documentation of the protocol for camera operation which was mandated by new rules approved by the city council in March.

“SPD had said those rules were being drafted by a ‘steering committee,’” according to WSB. “Its membership has not been disclosed; [privacy/technology activist Phil] Mocek’s public-disclosure request regarding its membership is still awaiting fulfillment.”

Did I forget anything or miss any errors? Would you like to make me aware of a story or subject to cover? Or perhaps you want to bring your writing to a wider audience? Feel free to contact me at [email protected] with your concerns, tips, questions, original writings, insults or just about anything that may strike your fancy.

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This article first appeared at End the Lie.

Madison Ruppert is the Editor and Owner-Operator of the alternative news and analysis database End The Lie and has no affiliation with any NGO, political party, economic school, or other organization/cause. He is available for podcast and radio interviews. Madison also now has his own radio show on UCYTV Monday nights 7 PM – 9 PM PT/10 PM – 12 AM ET. Show page link here: http://UCY.TV/EndtheLie. If you have questions, comments, or corrections feel free to contact him at [email protected]

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