Victory in Cambridge!

2-year RT4 & ACLU campaign leads to passage of strong surveillance oversight ordinance

On December 10, 2018, the City of Cambridge, MA became the second jurisdiction on the East Coast to pass a “surveillance oversight ordinance.”

These ordinances were originally developed in 2013 by Restore The Fourth activists in the San Francisco Bay Area, where ordinances have now passed in OaklandBerkeleyDavisPalo AltoSanta Clara County and the Bay Area Rapid Transit Board.

A surveillance oversight ordinance is a simple way for local people to take control over the surveillance technologies being deployed against them. Surprisingly, the default in most cities and towns is that police can borrow, acquire, or deploy any surveillance technology without even letting elected officials know, let alone asking their permission beforehand.

This is how these ordinances work. For any surveillance technology – broadly defined – that a local agency wants to deploy, they have to present a plan for how it will be used and what will happen to the data to the local elected officials, who will concurrently decide whether to approve the technology and the plan. Then, if approved, the deploying agency has to report back regularly to the elected officials on whether actual use matches planned use. If it doesn’t, there are penalties.

Congratulations should go to Digital Fourth / RT4-Boston and to the ACLU of Massachusetts. According to organizer Alex Marthews, “We’re delighted to see this pass, and pass unanimously. We hope to see other strong ordinances pass in other Massachusetts cities and towns.” 

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