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ACLU of Northern California




California communities are increasingly grappling with whether to deploy new surveillance technologies ranging from drones to license plate readers to facial recognition. This is understandable, since public safety budgets are tight, technology vendors promise the ability to do more with less, and federal agencies or industry sponsors may even offer funding.

But surveillance can be both less effective and far more costly to local agencies and to the community at large than initially imagined, leaving communities saddled with long-term bills for surveillance that doesn't end up making the community safer. Surveillance can also be easily misused, leading to the erosion of community trust, bad press, and even costly lawsuits.

In the wake of the revelations about the National Security Agency’s rampant warrantless spying and the use of military equipment in Ferguson, Missouri to quell protests, communities are increasingly focused on the need for greater transparency, oversight, and accountability of surveillance and local policing. More than ever, people are aware of how billions of dollars in federal funding and equipment provided directly to law enforcement is circumventing normal democratic processes and preventing communities from thoroughly evaluating the costs and risks of surveillance. As a result, many community leaders and residents are no longer willing to heed local law enforcement’s call to “just trust us.”

Instead, leaders and residents want to know when and why surveillance is being considered, what it is intended to do, and what it will really cost — both in dollars and in individual rights — before taking any steps to seek funding or acquire or deploy surveillance technology. They also want to craft robust rules to ensure proper use, oversight, and accountability if surveillance is used. Unfortunately, few resources exist to help communities make thoughtful decisions about surveillance. That’s where this document comes in.

This first-of-its-kind guide provides step-by-step assistance to help communities ask and answer the right questions about surveillance. It includes case studies highlighting smart approaches and missteps to avoid. Because each community and each type of surveillance may present a different set of issues, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, this guide gives communities a flexible framework that policymakers, community members and law enforcement should use to properly evaluate a wide array of surveillance technologies and develop policies that provide transparency, oversight, and accountability. It also includes a Surveillance & Community Safety Ordinance that communities should adopt to ensure that the right process is followed every time.

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