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Government Surveillance

Oakland Shows Leadership in Passing Strong Surveillance Law

Ubiquitous surveillance has the potential to chill speech, limit our freedom of association, and disrupt the personal boundaries we should enjoy, even while in public. The city of Oakland recognized this and has demonstrated great leadership in recently passing a strong surveillance oversight law. The law gives fundamental oversight abilities to Oakland citizens for the technology that could be used by the government to monitor them.

As I said in my testimony to the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission last year, the proliferation of commonly available surveillance technologies is simply the most recent iteration in the dialogue on governmental authority and individual privacy. It serves all of us – whether concerned about the effective operations of government or about zealously guarding the civil liberties of individuals – to ensure that new technologies are deployed mindfully, taking into account these various equities.

The new law entrusts the Privacy Advisory Commission, which is composed of volunteer commissions from each city council district, to review any hardware or software being procured by the city that could affect the privacy rights of citizens. It also eliminates non-disclosure provisions in contracts and protects whistleblowers.

Oakland, along with Berkeley and Davis, are well ahead of other cities in empowering its citizens to ensure that the balance of power does not shift too far in favor of the government. This is a tremendous step forward for accountability and transparency in the deployment of surveillance technologies. I hope to see even more cities across the country adopt similar laws. Our democracy will be stronger for it.