Council Asks Staff to Come Back with an ACLU-Modeled Surveillance Ordinance

Chief Pytel claims the city doesn’t have a drone

At last night’s city council meeting, the Davis City Council did not formally vote on a surveillance ordinance, but they made it clear they favored an ACLU-modeled ordinance over the alternative put forward by Chief Darren Pytel.

The recommendations that Chief Pytel put forward were as follows:

  • That for purposes of the administrative policy, “surveillance technology” does not include standard computers and software, hardware and software in widespread public use and not used by the law enforcement agency for any surveillance or surveillance-related functions.
  • That the police department may acquire and use surveillance technology authorized by a valid state or federal search or arrest warrant.
  • That the police department may temporarily acquire surveillance technology in exigent circumstances unless the acquisition or use in exigent circumstances conflicts with, or is preempted by, other state or federal law.
  • That any technology temporarily acquired in exigent circumstances shall be returned within seven days following its acquisition, or when the exigent circumstances end, whichever is sooner, unless the technology is submitted to the council for approval. If the police department is unable to comply with the seven-day timeline, the police department shall notify the council, who may grant an extension.

Back in April, the Davis Human Relations Commission passed the following motion 4-0: “The Human Relations Commission recommends that the City Council use the ACLU model ordinance, with a civilian oversight component, as the basis for adopting an ordinance that provides oversight of the Police Department acquisition and use of surveillance equipment.”  (Full disclosure: not only am I a member of the HRC, but it was my motion).

The following is a statement from the ACLU of Northern California submitted to the Vanguard:

It is particularly important for Davis to be taking this proactive step to enact a surveillance ordinance now. We know surveillance—particularly when acquired or used in secret, without the input from diverse community members and robust oversight—is often used to target people of color and silence dissent. We know that immigrant and Muslim community members are facing increased threats and the need for social protest is on the rise.

This ordinance will make sure that the right questions are asked and answered about surveillance systems, resulting in important transparency, accountability, and oversight.

This ordinance will help ensure that the people of Davis have the voice they need in surveillance decisions that affect their lives and families.

It is an important safeguard to prevent the secret collection of information that, in the wrong hands, can lead to rapid erosion of our rights.

This ordinance will help ensure that our local resources are not spent on costly, ineffective and invasive surveillance that creates more problems than it solves.

And this ordinance is an important tool to build trust between our community and local law enforcement.

The spirit of the ordinance is true democratic process and transparency.  Unlike the “city administrative policy” recommended in this morning’s staff report, the ordinance would ensure these goals are achieved with the full force of the law behind it.

The ACLU strongly urges the council to vote yes for transparency, democracy, and basic fairness by voting yes on the surveillance ordinance.

The following is the preamble to the model ordinance:

The City Council finds it is essential to have an informed public debate as early as possible about decisions related to surveillance technology.

The City Council finds that, while surveillance technology may threaten the privacy of all citizens, throughout history, surveillance efforts have been used to intimidate and oppress certain communities and groups more than others, including those that are defined by a common race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, income level, sexual orientation, or political perspective.

The City Council finds that surveillance technology may also be a valuable tool to bolster community safety and aid in the investigation and prosecution of crimes, while acknowledging the significance of protecting the privacy of citizens.

The City Council finds that surveillance technology includes not just technology capable of accessing non-public places or information (such as wiretaps) but also technology which aggregates publicly available information, because such information, in the aggregate or when pieced together with other information, has the potential to reveal a wealth of detail about a person’s familial, political, professional, religious, or sexual associations.

The City Council finds that no decisions relating to surveillance technology should occur without strong consideration being given to the impact such technologies may have on civil rights and civil liberties, including those rights guaranteed by the California and United States Constitutions.

The City Council finds that any and all decisions regarding if and how surveillance technologies should be funded, acquired, or used should include meaningful public input and that public opinion should be given significant weight.

The City Council finds that legally enforceable safeguards, including robust transparency, oversight, and accountability measures, must be in place to protect civil rights and civil liberties before any surveillance technology is deployed.

The City Council finds that, if a surveillance technology is approved, data reporting measures must be adopted that empower the City Council and public to verify that mandated civil rights and civil liberties safeguards have been strictly adhered to.



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 thoughts on “Council Asks Staff to Come Back with an ACLU-Modeled Surveillance Ordinance”

  1. Howard P

    My concern is that it would be interpreted to prohibit the acquisition of drones (your graphic) for purposes of “surveillance” that has nothing to do with crime or personal liberties… ex.:  looking for extent of localized flooding; downed power lines; structural damage; evaluating structural fires, other legitimate public works/public safety related functions…

    If that can be incorporated, fine… but a lot of folk tend to be paranoid, some for legitimate reasons, most, not so much…

      1. Howard P

        Let’s see how it ‘morphs’ by the time it comes up for adoption… will it focus on “tools” or the “use of tools”?   Have no problem with the latter…

        And, as I’m sure you know, you can use words in such away that you can effectively “prohibit” anything, without using that ‘term’.  C’mon!  Be real on that!

        1. David Greenwald

          It’s a disclosure ordinance – they have to inform council what they have and inform the council if they acquire new stuff.  A lot of the technology Chief Pytel pointed out requires a warrant for actual use.

  2. Howard P

    What about non-law enforcement?  That was my point!  Will it be written so narrowly that it only applies to police?  With folk thinking that PW, Fire, Parks, etc. would be excluded?  It is not now…

    From the model ordinance, “The City Council finds that any and all decisions regarding if and how surveillance technologies should be funded, acquired, or used should (will probably be “shall” before it hits prime time) include meaningful public input and that public opinion should be given significant weight.

    The City Council finds that legally enforceable safeguards, including robust transparency, oversight, and accountability measures, must be in place to protect civil rights and civil liberties before any surveillance technology is deployed.

    The City Council finds that, if a surveillance technology is approved, data reporting measures must be adopted that empower the City Council and public to verify that mandated civil rights and civil liberties safeguards have been strictly adhered to.

    Sure seems that is darn near like a prohibition, particularly for non-law enforcement purposes…

    There are a lot of “squishy” adjectives in the proposed preamble/ordinance!

      1. Howard P

        But, can you admit that the “model” does not narrow the field to that?  Pytel was focused on PD… the ACLU model is not clearly so…

        Rest assured, most folk would not distinguish the use of drones for looking for criminals/criminal behavior, “spying”, and looking for broken sprinkler heads on a greenbelt… it’s all “big brother” to some of them…

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