Seattle Police Cameras – Ready or not here they come!

Private Event sign outside public meeting

We know all we need about the Port Security Grant now. At tonight’s public meeting, the third and final public meeting on the Port Security Grant, I asked why the system is run by the City of Seattle Police and not the Port of Seattle Police. The answer from Assistant Chief McDonagh: to get to the port, you need to walk down the sidewalk in Seattle. This response is exactly what everyone seems to be afraid of.

I know everyone involved seems to have the best intentions in mind, and aimed into the sound, the cameras really pose no risk to privacy. However, the cameras would be far more valuable if they were aimed at the sidewalk, where they will see significant activity, both legal and illegal.

Do we really need to have the police recording people as they walk down the sidewalk? These recordings create a public record. I agree that the Seattle Police Department probably isn’t doing any facial recognition or people tracking. What is to stop a private marketing company from requesting all the video files and then doing it themselves?

I appreciate the Seattle Police Department’s attempt to install a surveillance system while minimizing the impact on the public, but I’m not convinced it is possible to maintain those goals in the long term.

Finally, I think it is unfortunate that this is the last public meeting. Not only was this meeting held with only three days of notice, but it was held during the first holiday weekend of the summer. Obviously turnout was small.

I did learn tonight that my pending public records request has made no forward progress because the Seattle Police Department has no staff to deal with the problem. That is quite unfortunate. I don’t have the time or money to take legal action, but if this camera system goes live before the records are returned, I will be forced to do something.

I agree that the system as installed is likely harmless. But I urge the Seattle Police Department to finish responding to outstanding public records requests, determine the camera usage policies and partners, and resolve the public data access concerns before going live with this system.