Proposed Surveillance Guidelines Take Shape in Palo Alto, Calif.

Members of the Policy and Services Committee agreed that the City Council should receive an annual report about each department’s use of surveillance technology.

(TNS) -- An ordinance proposed by some Palo Alto city leaders that would require public vetting of existing and future surveillance technology is gaining momentum.

When the City Council returns to session after summer break, it likely will review the proposed ordinance, which aims to make the city’s use of surveillance equipment more transparent.

Councilman Cory Wolbach, who backed such an ordinance in a colleagues memo last year, said he wants the city to be thoughtful about any new technology it deploys.

Residents should be fully aware of what data the city acquires, retains and shares about them, Wolbach said.

“To my knowledge, I don’t think the city does collect, retain or disseminate information inappropriately, but that’s why we’re pushing a transparency measure,” Wolbach said. “We want to make sure there’s a chance for the council and the public to weigh in.”

In April 2016, the council referred the issue to its Policy and Services Committee. In June, the committee, which Wolbach now chairs, voted 3-0 to have city staff craft a draft ordinance.

Committee members agreed that the council should receive an annual report about each department’s use of surveillance technology.

The ordinance would pertain to technology such as drones with camera capabilities, automated license plate readers and facial recognition technology, as well as devices with similar capabilities not yet invented.

Adam Schwartz, an attorney for the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, told city leaders last year that having clear policies will build trust between the community and police.

“The technology that is changing our lives, they can obviously do a lot of good,” he told the City Council at the time. “They can make our government more accountable, they can make it more efficient. But sometimes these technologies can diminish our privacy and our civil liberties and even kill our free speech.”

©2017 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.