More than a year after Seattle police promised to not turn on a network of surveillance cameras and communication nodes acquired as part of a federal port-security grant, the department hasn't issued a draft policy on how it will use the equipment and protect citizen privacy, reports the Seattle Times. The installation of the 30 cameras and a wireless mesh broadband network came shortly after the Police Department's purchase of two aerial drones, also with a Homeland Security grant, and also without public notice.
Privacy and civil-liberties advocates say the city needs to enact a strong review process to guide how information is collected, stored, shared and protected, rather than leaving the guidelines to various departments. “We know that whenever these systems are put in place, they can be abused,” said Lee Colleton, a computer-systems administrator and member of the Seattle Privacy Coalition. “The city needs strong oversight of any surveillance systems.” He was protesting a proposed youth jail in July when his cellphone picked up a Wi-Fi signal from one of the communication nodes mounted on a city utility pole. Much like other Wi-Fi hot spots, the nodes can collect and retain the identification of individual cellphone users and potentially track them as they move around the city. The police quickly apologized and said the “rogue node” had been inadvertently activated when a contractor restored power to the pole.