The San Diego City Council voted unanimously on Friday to stop police from making any future decisions about surveilling without the consent of the community.
The privacy advisory board will be made up of community leaders and technology experts. Future technology proposals as well as existing products and policies will be reviewed by the board. The city council will have final say over any technology going forward and will review it annually.
More than 30 organizations banded together to fight the use of "smart streetlights" in the city. The lights were approved by San Diego under an initiative to lower the city's energy bill.
The cameras were turned off in September of 2020 due to a wave of activist attention.
Lilly Irani, a professor at UC San Diego and member of the TRUST SD Coalition, told Gizmodo that the privacy groups researched in other cities such as Seattle and Oakland to come up with a regulatory scheme that incorporated community approval.“I see this as a tool for organizing and practicing democracy over technology, rather than just making sure experts get to advise the council.”
In December 2020, the city council voted to establish a privacy advisory board and grant itself final say over the adoption of surveillance tech. TRUST SD spent a lot of time educating local leaders on the consequences of unfettered data collection after the first vote on both measures.
The privacy board was approved in April. Friday's vote solidified the council's oversight authority and gave the privacy board a key role in reviewing technologies before they are adopted in the future.
The one-year grace period will allow city departments to assess the effectiveness of the programs already in place.
According to the local newspaper, Geneviéve Jones-Wright said that San Diego was the second city in the US to have a civil oversight board. The golden standard for community control was set by Oakland's privacy advisory commission.
Privacy advocates will not be offended by San Diego's law. In June, the San Diego Police Department was able to get two amendments approved. An exemption will allow city employees to work on behalf of federal agencies. Attorneys fees will be capped when citizens bring cases against the city.
Police can citeigent circumstances to deploy tech that isn't approved. This usually refers to situations in which there is reasonable belief that a person is about to be harmed or killed and that evidence of a crime is going to be destroyed. Damage to property is included in the definition under the law.
The third amendment sought by police, which would have granted immunity to any tool authorized by a warrant, seemed to be a non-starter with city leaders. She argued that judges aren't adequately equipped to make real-time decisions about the effects of these technologies.
She said that tech companies often distribute and sell personal data in obscure ways.
For San Diegans, the goal isn't simply giving subject matter experts a chance to chime in, it's to make sure they get to have a say. I see this as a way to organize and practice democracy over technology.
Monica Montgomery Steppe, the representative for district 4, was crucial to the coalition winning.
She said that all of this matters when the next technology comes down the pike and community members get to talk about it. If they don't want it, they can push their electeds.
The American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which is currently being considered by the U.S. Congress, would allow the federal government to ignore many state and local privacy rules. The current draft of the bill does not include an exemption for local regulations.