Residents speak out against controversial surveillance program

Residents speak out against controversial surveillance program
SEATTLE -- Seattle city leaders say they don't want any more surprises when it comes to surveillance cameras, and on Wednesday a council committee made that clear by approving strict new guidelines for how the technology can be used.

The cameras are meant to protect the port from terrorists, and many people support that effort. But what they don't support is the cameras that went up in near Alki Beach without notice, and that's what a proposed ordinance would stop.

The problem, according to many who oppose the cameras, is there does not appear to be any guarantee that the surveillance system won't be used to peer into homes.

"There must be oversight by departments other than the ones who are doing and using the surveillance," said Allegra Searle-Lebel.

Seattle police used a $5 million federal grant to purchase the 30-camera network, and documents show a city council committee approved the proposal with little debate.

City leaders now say police didn't fully disclose the privacy issues the program raises.

Councilman Nick Licata wasn't part of the committee that approved the system, but he said he won't let it happen again.

"Nip it in the bud situation. We do not want to see the past repeated," he said.

Licata and Councilman Bruce Harrell are co-sponsoring an ordinance that would require city departments to get council permission before buying any new surveillance equipment.

They say the police department's efforts to introduce drones, followed by the waterfront security cameras, convinced them that more privacy protections are needed.

"No more surprises. Let us know what you have planned. And before you go forward, let us know what you are going to do with the equipment," Licata said.

The ordinance would also require city departments to provide guidelines for how long images could be kept and who would have access tot hem. Some camera critics say even those new restrictions don't go far enough.

"It's just too much surveillance going on in the public square as it is," said Harriet Walden.

Many of the cameras are already installed along the waterfront, but Mayor Mike McGinn said none will go operational until these privacy concerns are sorted out.