When it comes to surveillance, there is a fine line between privacy and public safety. Because of this, surveillance laws are often scrutinized by both sides. A new bill was introduced at the end of 2016 which requires any local law enforcement agency in California that uses surveillance technology to submit a plan to local officials on how it uses equipment and information collected. This would need to include surveillance plans for any facial recognition software, drones, and even social media monitoring, and would be presented at an open hearing.
While this disclosure from law enforcement may put some worries at ease, others may want more. Privacy advocates believe that this is still not enough to cover spying equipment and technology that is continuing to evolve and expand. On the other side, law enforcement officials argue that creating plans and policies for each device may be unfeasible and interfere with investigations.
But state Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) says that it was introduced “to create transparency and a check and balance.” Without regulations on these devices and technology, they can easily be abused and infringe on our privacy rights.
With fairly comprehensive digital privacy laws, California has been actively working toward disclosure when it comes to law enforcement surveillance. State laws require a probable cause warrant for access to digital content and devices (ex. cell phones) and law enforcement must catalog information and make it publicly available.
The new bill gives agencies until July 1, 2018 to draft policies detailing all the types of surveillance technology used and the authorized reasons for using them, along with the types of data collected, who can access them, and a description of their training. It also prohibits an agency from acquiring new technology unless approved by local officials at a regularly scheduled public meeting.
Last year, two surveillance laws went into effect, one of which requires to draft and publicly post privacy and usage policies for operating automated license-plate recognition software. The other requires the same for the use of cell-site simulators (“Stingrays” or “Dirtboxes”). These are powerful tracking devices that function as fake cellphone towers to collect information. However, their ability to collect information from innocent people not under investigation has sparked outrage and court battles.
Despite current surveillance laws, privacy advocates believe that not all agencies are complying and that not enough is being done to ensure that they do. To evade the disclosure requirements, agencies could borrow technology from other federal agencies, which is not subject to state law.
In an effort to check compliance, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other nonprofits and watchdog groups searched through numerous California government websites to make sure surveillance policies were posted. While many were easily located, policies for at least 90 agencies (which, based on public records, were believed to use surveillance technology) could not be found. Since this task in April 2016, more agencies have posted their policies online.
While the new bill is meant to be inclusive and comprehensive, concerns remain. Some worry that criminals may figure out how they are being tracked, others bring up issues of time sensitivity when it comes to buying or borrowing new technology, and privacy advocates are still skeptical about the cost, risks, and enforcement.
There are obviously mixed feelings about this new bill, and other surveillance laws. What are your views? Share your thoughts and opinions with us on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
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When it comes to surveillance and privacy, individual views can vary drastically. While some may see surveillance as a violation of privacy, others may see it as a necessity in terms of safety. Then there are individuals who fall somewhere in between on the spectrum, basing their views on circumstance and perceived benefit.
According a recent Pew Research Center study, which surveyed 461 adult participants, plus nine online focus groups of 80 participants, it seems that most Americans would sacrifice their privacy in certain situations based on whether the outcome would be advantageous to them.
The participants were given proposed scenarios where some sort of surveillance or privacy was pushed for a supposed benefit. For example, one scenario posed was that of workplace surveillance. After a string of workplace thefts, the business was to install security cameras with facial recognition technology to identify the thieves, as well as use footage to measure employee attendance and performance. A majority of the participants found this acceptable (54%), some disagreed (24%), and others said ‘it depends’ (21%).
Another scenario was related to loyalty cards for retail stores. These cards would track purchases for special discounts. Almost half of the participants found it acceptable (47%) while almost a third found it unacceptable (32%). When it came to a “smart thermostat” that would monitor movements within the home, most participants found it unacceptable (55%) than acceptable (27%).
As you can tell, the less personal the surveillance, the more acceptable it seems to be perceived. However, most are still wary about disclosing personal information, and even more concerned about what happens to their information thereafter. The threat of spam, targeted ads, and the potential for data breaches, as we have seen lately, makes most hesitant to let their guard down.
All in all, the consensus when it comes to surveillance and privacy matters is “it depends.” Based on an individual’s trust of the company or business and his/her perception of risk and benefit, the person will decide whether or not it’s worth it. This type of conditional acceptance shows that it can be hard to predict whether certain surveillance measures will be tolerated.
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