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How Oakland Approaches Police Surveillance

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

The city of Oakland is taking the lead when it comes to how it implements new technology in policing. Since 2014, the city has had a Privacy Advisory Commission which serves to evaluate and review the privacy implications of various police surveillance technology.

The commission was recently highlighted by Ars Technica, and held out as the standard that every city should strive to meet. In short, the Oakland Police are required to get clearance from the Privacy Advisory Commission before utilizing new technologies.

No Way Stingray

While a warrant may be required to effect a stingray op in the state of California, for Oakland's PD, the PAC also helped to lay out other rules. For example, because stingrays can invade the privacy of many, the commission prohibited the use of these at large events, like the protests which occur regularly in the city.

Notably though, the commission reports to the city council, which then can decide to take action. Like the name suggests, it is an advisory role. It is primarily tasked with ensuring that Oakland maintains up to date best practices when using, or acquiring, new tech for the city or police to use when that tech collects data on individuals. However, it is authorized to hold public hearings, as well as create reports detailing issues related to the city's use of technology and privacy.

Private Expectations

For law enforcement, having the latest greatest in tech can really come in handy when it comes to fighting crime. However, new tech, as innocuous as it may often sound sometimes, can quickly present fascinating Fourth Amendment issues worthy of a bar exam question.

Given the fact that nearly half of all Americans are already cataloged in the FBI's facial recognition database, which was only recently developed, the Oakland model may need to spread around the nation faster. Privacy advisory boards, like Oakland's, could really help to make sure that police departments and cities don't lose sight of the fact that privacy is one of those defining characteristics of freedom.

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