Downtown Seattle

Police deactivating controversial WiFi network in Seattle

Police deactivating controversial WiFi network in Seattle
SEATTLE -- In what's being called a "gesture of good will," the Seattle Police Department has agreed to deactivate a WiFi network in downtown Seattle that some worried could be used to spy on residents.

Last week, the ACLU of Washington raised concerns about a number of white boxes that recently showed up in parts of downtown Seattle.

The boxes are part of a wireless mesh network that was installed by the Seattle Police Department to improve communication. However, there were immediate concerns about the network being used to track people's movements.

"In a democratic society you should be able to move freely without law enforcement tracking your movements unless they have reason to believe you're doing something wrong," ACLU communications director Doug Honig said last week.

In an effort to allay those fears, interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel decided on Tuesday to deactivate the system, according to police spokesman Sean Whitcomb.

The system was installed using money from a Homeland Security grant related to another controversial waterfront surveillance system. Whitcomb said the police department will pay to have the system deactivated, though he doesn't yet know how much that task will cost.

The City council requires equipment that can be used for surveillance to be approved by ordinance before it's installed. Whitcomb said the wireless mesh system will not be reactivated until the City Council takes up the plan and allows for "a vigorous public debate."

There's no timetable for when the system will be fully offline.