The city will not activate the 30 surveillance cameras installed along the Seattle waterfront until the public has a chance to weigh in, Mayor Mike McGinn said.
“The system will not be operated until a thorough public vetting of the system has been completed and the public has provided input,” McGinn said in prepared statement.
The mayor said he has directed the Police Department to brief community groups and solicit opinions before going ahead with the cameras, which were acquired through a $5 million federal Homeland Security grant. Installed along the city’s shoreline from Fauntleroy to Golden Gardens, the cameras are designed to augment security, according to police.
McGinn said he will also be speaking with other potential beneficiaries of the system, including the Port of Seattle, Coast Guard, Fire Department and other public safety and transportation agencies.
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Police had hoped to have the cameras operational by the end of next month.
The mayor’s announcement comes a week after he pulled the plug on the Police Department’s fledgling unmanned drone program.
Seattle police acquired two helicopter drones several years ago under a federal grant and last year received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin training operators.
The drones and camera system sparked privacy concerns among some citizens.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington did not condemn the evolving technology wholesale, but said policies governing the use of such equipment was needed first.
On Thursday, the ACLU of Washington sent a letter to McGinn and the City Council expressing concern over the city’s practice of accepting federal grants to acquire and implement surveillance technology without public opinion or oversight by elected city officials.
The organization asked the city’s leaders to develop a process that includes public vetting and full disclosure about intended uses before the acquisition of any new surveillance technology or programs.
“We’re glad to see that the city’s elected officials are starting to take a more serious look at surveillance technologies,” said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the ACLU. “When the city is thinking of acquiring and implementing surveillance technology, there needs to be meaningful public discourse.”
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, head of the city’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, has scheduled a meeting Wednesday to discuss the surveillance cameras. Harrell is running against McGinn, who is seeking re-election.
The ACLU and other privacy groups have been calling for the establishment of strict guidelines over the use of new surveillance technology since the FAA was ordered last year to provide for the safe integration of domestic drones in American airspace.
Christine Clarridge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8983.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.