Editorial: Should Police Be Able To Buy Spying Equipment Without Telling Anyone? No Way

June 15, 2017

Mercury News Editorial

When a police or sheriff’s department wants to buy new technology — maybe a drone, or a facial recognition device — that can spy on people, shouldn’t it have a public policy in place for how the latest gadget will be used and how to protect the collected personal data from misuse?

We think it should. Santa Clara County has a sensible law requiring this, thanks to the persistence of Supervisor Joe Simitian. But as State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, tries to pass a state law modeled on the county’s, the blowback has been more like a jet engine than a drone’s buzz. His SB21 narrowly passed the Senate, but it faces strong headwinds in the Assembly from the law enforcement lobby: Police agencies say disclosing their technology will compromise its usefulness.

The Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown need to line up on the side of public accountability. The bill should become law. All of California should have the protection that Santa Clara County residents have from unlimited invasions of privacy and misuse of data about their movement, activity and conversations.