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City council gives final approval on privacy and technology ordinance

Posted at 8:23 PM, Aug 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-09 23:23:01-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — After years of controversy about the city's use of surveillance equipment, San Diegans will now have a say in how the technology is used.

Last week, the City Council gave the final approval on a privacy and technology ordinance.

"San Diegans now have a seat at the table. By law, a permanent seat at the decision-making table," said Seth Hall.

Hall is a technology expert and member of TRUST SD, the group behind the Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology ordinance.

He said concerns rose after the city began installing thousands of streetlight cameras.

"Those cameras were mounted outside doctor's offices. They were mounted outside mosques," he said.

The city said the streetlights were a cost-saving, energy-efficient alternative to the former streetlights.

The San Diego Police Department also used the cameras to help track down suspects involved in high-profile crimes.

However, in 2020, then-mayor Kevin Faulconer turned the cameras off until the city council implemented some oversight.

"We don't just buy these things [surveillance technology] and put them out, and we don't talk about them. That's not acceptable," Hall said.

Under the ordinance, city staff will have to report to the council on all technology used to monitor and identify people, as well as the impact on communities.

The city must also hold public meetings.

This will allow people to weigh in on surveillance tools installed in their neighborhoods, such as Shot Spotter, a system that places microphones in public spaces to identify gunshots.

"Oftentimes, these technologies are placed into communities that are the least welcoming to the police charging in, thinking that they're going in trying to find the gunfire," Hall said.

The city council will also appoint a privacy advisory board comprised of community members.

"At the end of the day, what this effort is about is returning some of the power to San Diegans so that they can have trust," Hall said.

The city has one year to move all its existing surveillance technology through the oversight process.