Balancing Privacy with Protection | Civil Grand Jury asks Cops to Disclose Surveillance Policies

July 13, 2017

Daily Journal
By Samantha Weigel

As many Bay Area law enforcement agencies grow eager to adopt technological advancements to help fight crime, the debate over how surveillance systems could impede privacy rights continues to stir.

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury investigated local agencies’ techniques and policies before releasing a report this week titled “A Delicate Balance: Privacy vs. Protection.” In it, the grand jury suggests most agencies are not doing an adequate job of informing the public as to how or whether they’re being watched and recommends cities and the county adopt new policies to promote transparency.

“Surveillance tools are everywhere: Video cameras are in stores, public buildings, even at a neighbor’s front door. Advances in surveillance technology have assisted law enforcement in investigating mass shootings, tracking terrorists and finding lost children,” the grand jury wrote in its report. “As valued as these new surveillance tools are to law enforcement, privacy experts say that innocent people may be targeted.”

The 2016-17 report comes just as numerous law enforcement agencies are working to equip their officers with body-worn cameras — which was recommended by the grand jury a year earlier. Now, it seeks to promote public awareness about how potentially sensitive information is gathered, stored and who has access.

Currently, 14 police departments and the Sheriff’s Office have purchased or plan to implement body-worn cameras. However, only Menlo Park has a statement related to the use of this equipment available online. Cities such as Atherton, Belmont, Foster City, Hillsborough and Menlo Park have had the equipment for several years. South San Francisco is just turning their cameras on; while San Mateo and Burlingame recently approved purchasing them. The Sheriff’s Office, Brisbane, Colma, Pacifica, Redwood City, San Bruno and East Palo Alto are expected to implement programs in the coming months.

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