Surveillance Study Committee - Jun 6th, 2018

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Adam Chapdelaine wasn't able to attend this meeting. There was representation from town IT, APD, the facilities department, the human rights commission, and citizen members. Town Counsel wasn't able to attend, but provided a memorandum on the legal landscape affecting the use of surveillance equipment.

Sayed (IT) provided an inventory of town-owned surveillance cameras:

  • Treasurer's office: 12
  • Robbins Library: 16
  • Central School: 5
  • Highland Fire Station
  • Park Ave. Fire Station
  • Police Headquarters: 18
  • Arlington High School: 29
  • Veteran's Memorial Rink: 12
  • Gibbs School (under construction)

Most sites have a mix of internal and external cameras. The lack of a number means that we know cameras are installed, but don't (yet) know how many. The DPW yard has security cameras, but these were never activated.

No audio recording takes place in the treasurer's office. The cameras are equipped with microphones, but the microphones were never hooked up. David Good says it's common for installers to leave audio feeds disconnected out of concern for Massachusetts wiretap laws.

Sayed states that most departments follow a 30-day retention schedule, because that's what they have capacity to store. There's not a town-wide retention policy.

Do we know when these cameras were installed?

APD installed its first cameras in 2008. Additional cameras were installed in 2016, when the public safety building was renovated. APD has signs to alert people that video recording is taking place. Not all departments do this.

The oldest camera installations are probably those in the treasurer's office and Robbin's library. Security cameras were added to the Central Fire Station when it was renovated.

The Veteran's Rink cameras were installed around five years ago. Some are interior and some are exterior.

The town has standardized on Avigilon surveillance equipment (see American Alarm provides installation and maintenance.

All town cameras passively record footage. Town cameras are not actively monitored.

Is the camera footage a public record? Meeting attendees were not sure. The Police or District Attorney can ask for (and obtain) copies of camera footage. We're not sure about anyone else.

David Good reports that he's only received video requests from the police department, and from the school resource officer.

(Would be useful to review the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute, and see what kind of distinction, if any, is made between audio and video recordings).

Next, the group discussions sample ordinances. We have one from Somerville, one from San Francisco, and one from Berkeley, CA.

The Berkeley ordinance categorizes body cameras as surveillance equipment; the Somerville ordinance excludes them. Both Berkeley and Somerville exempt cameras installed in public buildings. Somerville exempts traffic cameras.

There's debate as to whether these policies are trying to draw a distinction between surveillance and security. The group comes to a rough agreement that we'll need definitions for things like surveillance, surveillance equipment, and security equipment. Is security a lock on a door, or a camera watching the door.? What assets are being protected (e.g., people, the contents of a building, or the building itself)?

What about retention periods? A camera used for security might require a shorter retention period than one used for surveillance.

Intent is a very important element of this discussion. What equipment will be used, where will it be used, why will it be used, how will it be used, and who will have access to the data?

Somerville's policy requires a plan for public notifications. The policy, however, omits a requirement that the public notification plan be carried out.

In Arlington, town meeting might be too unwieldy a forum for public notifications -- there are only a couple of town meetings per year. Select Board meetings are probably a better place.

Different departments are likely to have different requirements for security and the use of surveillance equipment. The police department may fall into a separate category than the rest of the town.

New camera acquisitions typically have to go through the purchasing and IT departments.

How do cameras affect teachers and students? There's a fair amount of case law that says students have few rights while in school (i.e., it would be difficult for a student to, say, claim that a camera invaded their privacy). What kind of rights to teachers have in this area?

The San Francisco camera ordinance explicitly exempts cameras in schools. Somerville's ordinance doesn't mention schools, but they exempt cameras in public buildings. Presumably schools are considered public buildings.

The use of cameras in public buildings could be affected by collective bargaining agreements. We don't know if this is the case, though.

Regardless of whether the equipment is used for surveillance or security, there should still be policies (but the policies can be different).

Would Somerville's policy be viable in Arlington? Could it work with Arlington's form of town government? We'd need Town Counsel to answer this question. It would be very helpful to know what we can and cannot do here. Also, if the word "school" appeared in Somerville's policy, what impact would that have.

Our APD representative provides some information on ALPRs. APD asked other municipalities about their use of ALPR systems, and most of the feedback was negative. It's hard to get an ALPR system to run smoothly without in-house IT staff. Many police departments think they're a technological nightmare. APD doesn't want to engage in "gotcha" style policing. It may be useful to (say) find individuals with unpaid motor vehicle registrations, but those are generally low-income individual. APD has decided not to purchase an ALPR.

The group assigns itself several tasks for homework:

  • Try to come up with definitions of security, surveillance equipment, and such. In order to come up with a policy, we need to be able to say what's in scope and what's out of scope.
  • Review the memorandum from Town Counsel

We will use a Doodle Poll to select our next meeting date. The group would like to chose a time where Town Counsel is available.