Surveillance Study Committee - May 21st, 2018

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Tonight was the Surveillance Study Group's first meeting. Attending were Adam Chapdelaine; representatives from the IT, police, and facilities departments; a member of the human rights commission; and six resident members.

Adam began by talking about the group's charter and mission. I followed up by stating my motivations for proposing the group: to inventory the town's use of surveillance technologies, to see what policies we had in place for this equipment and data collected (data retention, sharing, access, etc), and to consider adopting policies as appropriate.

Areas where the town uses cameras:

  • Fire stations
  • Police headquarters
  • Arlington high school
  • Gibbs school
  • Veteran's memorial rink
  • Treasurer's office

The town may install surveillance cameras in the DPW yard, but there are none there now.

The Arlington Housing Authority has an extensive surveillance camera network, but this is not under town control.

Sayed (IT department) believes that 30-day retention periods are fairly common. (I pointed out that MassDOT has a 30-day retention period for MBTA surveillance cameras).

The group identifies several areas to focus on

  • Inventory of existing systems. (This is mostly complete)
  • Verify the retention schedules. (Is the 30-day retention period uniform)
  • Find some history behind how the cameras have been used (e.g., disciplinary action)

By statute, the police department has cameras in all of the cell blocks, with a set retention schedule. There's a question about whether cell block footage can be obtained via public records requests. APD will not release footage (or police reports) while an investigation is in progress. All of the footage is stored on servers in the public safety building.

APD gets frequent requests for copies of 911 audio recordings. The department has 911 recordings going back three or four years.

The town does not have any traffic cameras.

The town has an ALPR. APD will provide more information on how this devices is used. It can be programmed to identify specific categories of plates (e.g., outstanding warrants). The plate numbers are sent to the RMV, and the RMV may store copies of the plate lookup requests. ALPR targeting profiles are determined by the police department, and not individual officers.

Drone cameras might be in scope of this group's study. We should also try to anticipate the use of future surveillance technologies.

It would be useful to know the procedures involved in setting up a new town camera.

There's a question about whether the town can regulate the use of cameras at public businesses (i.e., where the camera records a public space). We're not sure -- that will be a question for town counsel.

The treasurer's office may use audio recording in addition to video recording.

Does the town use offline services to process camera data? We're not sure; this will require investigation.

TODO: look at surveillance camera policies in Somerville, and similar municipalities.

It would be good to have a dialog about the benefits of surveillance cameras, and the cost to civil rights.

One committee member recommended this article, about Berkeley's police surveillance laws: