After two years of advocacy and close collaboration with the City of Cambridge, the ACLU of Massachusetts applauds a new Cambridge ordinance that will require community control over police surveillance (CCOPS).
“We commend the City of Cambridge for passing an ordinance that will empower residents and their local elected officials to bring community control over police surveillance,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Far too often, police departments across Massachusetts and the country obtain invasive, costly surveillance equipment without any meaningful transparency or oversight. This ordinance charts against that trend, requiring public engagement before the Cambridge police can acquire surveillance technology like drones and cell phone tracking devices.”
“We read daily some new infringement upon our civil rights and free exercise of democracy; this ordinance could not be more timely,” said Mayor Marc McGovern. “I am particularly grateful for the collaborative and constructive process that the City Manager’s Office, the Police Commissioner, the City Solicitor and our partners at the ACLU have led during the past two years, culminating in an ordinance that protects our civil rights, builds institutional accountability and transparency, and considers the potential impacts to communities of color or other marginalized communities before policies are implemented.”
“The City of Cambridge is deeply committed to balancing the public’s right to privacy with the City’s need to promote and ensure our resident’s safety and security” said Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. “Cambridge’s newly ordained Surveillance Ordinance, which is the direct result of our close collaboration with the ACLU of Massachusetts over that past few years, will ensure the accountable and transparent use of surveillance technology by the City. I want to thank the ACLU of Massachusetts, especially Kade Crockford, for the close collaboration with the Mayor, City Council, City staff, and the residents of Cambridge.”
“The newly ordained Surveillance Ordinance is the culmination of a well-thought-out, fair and collaborative process,” said Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr. “The Surveillance Ordinance creates the type of transparency and protocols we strive to deliver as we seek to further enhance the safety of our residents, while protecting people’s civil rights and civil liberties.”
The ordinance mandates that surveillance technologies cannot be funded, acquired, or used without express City Council approval. City departments seeking to use a previously-acquired surveillance technology in a new way must also receive City Council approval of the new use. To facilitate a well-informed public debate, the police or other City department seeking to use the surveillance technology must report on, among other things, the technology to be acquired, its capabilities, how precisely it would be used, how its data would be preserved and protected, its acquisition and operational costs, and how potential adverse impacts on civil rights and civil liberties will be prevented. This information will be made public prior to the date of the Council meeting where it will be discussed. The new law also requires ongoing reporting to the Council and the public about how City departments including the police use approved surveillance tools.
In September 2016, the ACLU launched a nationwide effort to pass CCOPS laws that ensure residents – through their local elected officials – are empowered to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used. Since then, enthusiasm for CCOPS has spread across the nation. CCOPS laws have already been secured in 12 jurisdictions and local CCOPS efforts have sprouted up in more than thirty cities. Maine and California have sponsored statewide CCOPS legislation.
Following a City Council vote last night, Cambridge became the first city in the Boston area to pass surveillance oversight reform through the municipal legislature, and now joins cities like Seattle, Washington and Oakland, California, which have passed strong surveillance laws requiring transparency, accountability, and oversight of city surveillance technologies. Last year, Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone signed an executive policy requiring a multi-step process before new surveillance technology may be purchased and deployed in the city. In September, the Lawrence City Council passed a CCOPS law requiring Council oversight of law enforcement and other City agency surveillance. The ACLU and allied organizations are advocating for CCOPS laws in Brookline and Worcester.
“This victory is the culmination of two years of work,” said Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Technology for Library program. “The ACLU is grateful to City Manager Louis DePasquale, his legal team at the City Solicitor’s office, Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, former Mayor Denise Simmons, the Cambridge City Council, and the people of Cambridge for their commitment to local democracy, accountability, and transparency. We are particularly grateful to Mayor Marc McGovern and his staff, for their leadership and commitment to surveillance oversight reform. The City of Cambridge has demonstrated that it is a model for other local governments by embracing the call to ensure that new surveillance technologies are only adopted and used in accordance with the people’s will. The ACLU looks forward to continued collaboration with the City as it works to implement the ordinance over the coming year.”
Surveillance technologies covered under the Cambridge ordinance include automatic license plate readers, video surveillance, biometric surveillance technology including facial and voice recognition software and databases, social media monitoring software, police body-worn cameras, predictive policing software, and more.