In 2018, Auckland Enact an innovative law that gives citizens a voice in police use of surveillance technology. It was called the Electronic Frontier Foundation.The new gold standard in societal control of police surveillance. Since then, about 20 other cities have adopted similar laws.
Now, Brian Hoover, one of the architects of the Auckland law, says it’s not working. Earlier this month, Hoover sued city and the police department, saying they repeatedly broke the law.
“We’ve ignored human nature,” Hoover says in an interview. “The police don’t like to be transparent. The use of surveillance technology is secretive by design, and no party interested themselves would highlight anything negative about their voluntarily proposing.” A spokesperson for the Auckland Police Department said it does not comment on ongoing legal issues.
But even in Auckland, the law has given critics of police surveillance a platform. In fact, Hoover sued under a provision of the law that allows citizens to sue the city. He hopes this will lead to the appointment of an independent consultant to review police department data and assess surveillance technology.
Like any law, [the surveillance ordinance] “And that’s why it’s great to see people in Oakland and San Francisco using it to sue the police,” says Matt Cagle, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Technology and Civil Liberties Program in Northern California.
A national review of laws — dubbed CCOPS, for Community Control of Police Surveillance — points to other small successes. In Nashville, opposition to a community group created under such a law has halted—at least temporarily—a proposal for the city to purchase automatic license plate readers.
Laws differ in their details. Some require regular meetings between police and community members, annual audits of effectiveness and potential bias, greater transparency to sellers and taxpayers of any new technology, and a period of public comment before purchasing new technology such as body cameras or the ShotSpotter, which uses microphones to detect shootings.
in a white paper for student Issued earlier this year, the Samuelson Clinic for Law, Technology and Public Policy at Berkeley Law School said many ordinances are weaker than Oakland’s laws. New York City and Grand Rapids do not enable citizens to sue, as Oakland does. In six jurisdictions, including Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Palo Alto, California, police are exempt from the rules. So, while the library or school has to allow public comment on new monitoring tools, the police are exempted from the restrictions if they are carrying out an order or responding to a crisis.
Most cities give police ample scope to use surveillance technology during “urgent circumstances”. Students Tyler Takemoto and Ari Chivukula, authors of the white paper, say this could create loopholes in citizen oversight.
“We know that various local governments considered, for example, last summer’s racial justice uprisings to fall into that category of mitigating urgency,” Takemoto says.
Recognizing that there is no perfect combination of rules, the authors suggest that such ordinances enable citizens to sue and establish independent bodies to oversee the police and provide support. “Perhaps the most important thing is outside advice…a local nonprofit or community group that will remain committed,” says Civukola. “If you don’t have public participation, there is no pressure.”
The movement in Auckland to rein in police surveillance began in 2014, when groups including the ACLU and EFF protested the “Center for Domain Awareness,” a fusion center that combines microphones, CCTV and surveillance data.
The city was first established for port security, and was moving toward approval of citywide expansion. Advocacy groups successfully campaigned to cancel the expansion and create a temporary privacy committee that would write policies for the city’s use of technology. This became an early iteration of the CCOPS model.