Surveillance Study Committee - Aug 23rd, 2018

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Attending: David Good, Doug Heim, Julie Flaherty, Doug Funkhouser, Mark Streitfeld, Steve Revilak, Steve Nesterak.

Last meeting, we discussed surveillance ordinances from other communities, like Somerville.

Doug Heim points out that Somerville's executive order wasn't reviewed by the state, and he suspects portions of the EO may not be viable. This is one of the differences between cities and towns. Changes to town bylaws must be reviewed by the attorney general, but changes to city laws are not. In a city, changes stand until they're challenged in court.

In Arlington, the town manager and town meeting have different scopes of authority. A surveillance camera policy would be enacted by the town manager's office (town meeting doesn't have the authority to do this). Before putting such a policy in place, the town manager would likely bring it in front of the Select Board for discussion.

Doug Funkhouser asks about cameras in schools. Who has authority there? Doug Heim believes that's under the purview of the school district and school committee. Students have modified constitutional rights in the context of schools.

Next, there's a discussion about how camera footage is treated by public records law. Recorded video is likely to be requestable via the public records act, but it may depend on context.

Massachusetts has a set of records retention schedules, and these include schedules for recorded video. Video is subject to shorter retention requirements than other forms of public records.

The technical details of a video surveillance system may not be subject to a public records request, for the same reason the building plans are not. It's to prevent circumvention of security measures.

Law agencies have to operate under a set of checks and balances. For example, Section 1983 cases regarding unlawful searches and seizures.

Private parties and non-law enforcement agencies use a lot of cameras, perhaps more than the police. Julie Flaherty states that APD routinely asks private businesses for video footage, to assist with investigation.

David Good asks if public records requests for video have to be reviewed like (say) public requests for email? Doug Heim believed that would be the case.

Mark Streitfeld asks about public records requests for traffic camera footage. Doug Heim states that someone would have to review them for exemptions. Many traffic cameras do not shoot full-frame video; they're more like time-lapse cameras. Some traffic cameras don't have recording capability -- they just sense the presence of vehicles and control traffic lights. They're more like sensors than cameras.

Doug Heim thinks it would be useful to inventory the devices the town has, and what their capabilities are. Doug Funkhouser summarizes the town's camera inventory (presented during an earlier meeting). There's also discussion of facial recognition and different technical capabilities. For example, it doesn't make sense to talk about an IP-based camera as being a CCTV camera (where the image can be viewed, but is not stored) vs. a surveillance camera (where the images are stored, but not immediately viewed). An IP camera encodes video information as packets, and transmits them across a network. What happens afterwards is up to the receiving system: it might show the video on a screen, save it to a hard drive, transmit it to a third party, or any combination of the above.

From here, the group agrees to address items on the agenda.

Acceptable vs Unacceptable uses. For discussion, Mark wrote a list of potential uses of surveillance devices (cameras in particular). He wanted to have a discussion about what uses would be acceptable and what uses would not be acceptable.

I appreciated the thought Mark had put into this list, but felt uncomfortable with this committee making decisions about what uses were and were not appropriate. I stated a preference for creating a framework for public discussion and input. For example, saying "we want cameras to solve problem X" is not sufficient; one needs to explain how cameras solve that problem, and why they're preferable to other solutions.

Subjects the committee should explore. We discuss what the committee's work product should be. We could write a report for town meeting; we could try to write a policy, akin to Somerville's EO; or, we could write a more general set of recommendations. There's agreement that a general set of recommendations would be appropriate. The recommendations could include things like:

  • Notice. Who is entitled to know about the use of surveillance equipment? What is the public entitled to know? What opportunities should the public have for input?
  • Use. What is the technology used for? What's the objective? What problem is it trying to solve?
  • Users. Who's entitled to access information collected? For what purposes?
  • What's the process for developing policies, and making the public aware of them?

We should also consider the merits of having different policies for different types of technologies. This is tricky though, because technologies change over time.

There's a general consensus that the group should focus on the town's use of surveillance technology. We'd prefer not to address private or business use at this time, for the sake of keeping our efforts focused.

It would be reasonable to include recommendations for the schools. Schools have different legal standing than other town agencies, but it would still be nice to have clear policies.

Scheduling Next Meetings. The group would like to produce a set of recommendations by Nov 30th. To that end, we decide to meet every other Thursday: Sept 6th, Sept 20th, Oct 4th, Oct 18th, Nov 1st, Nov 15th, and Nov 30th.

At the next meeting, we'd like to work on an outline of our recommendations. Group members will send Steve R. a list of 3--5 items that they'd like to see in the recommendations; Steve will collect and distribute these in advance of the next meeting. Please send these to Steve by Sept 4th.

Other Business. The group doesn't have a chairperson. We should select one at the next meeting. We should also decide on a process for having a note taker, and producing minutes. Doug Heim offers to write minutes for this meeting. Steve offers to write minutes for the first two meetings.