Coalition of Nonprofits Joins Fight Against City-Wide Surveillance.
Portland, OR — Ahead of Wednesday’s important vote, more than two hundred Portlanders and a coalition of nonprofit groups are urging the City of Portland to bring democratic oversight to the city’s use of surveillance technologies and handling of the resultant data.
Right now, there is no legal or procedural framework of any kind to guide or limit the way the City of Portland, Oregon uses surveillance technology or the way that it collects and handles data on the conversations and activities of everyday people throughout the city. At the same time, Portland has quietly become the 9th-most-surveilled city in the United States.
In a first step toward more transparency on the use of these technologies, Portland City Council is considering a surveillance policy binding resolution at a hearing on February 1st, at 2 PM.
“For over a decade, Portlanders have fought for recognition that mass surveillance, risky data stewardship, and the indiscriminate rollout of experimental technologies have had harmful, even lethal consequences,” said Sarah Hamid, Campaigns and Organizing Director at the Carceral Tech Resistance Network. “Portland cannot keep its vulnerable communities safe if it cannot commit, at minimum, to diagnosing how this harm came about. The surveillance policy resolution not only acknowledges this harm, it takes seriously the work necessary to reverse these abuses.”
But 23 civil society organizations including the ACLU of Oregon, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Secure Justice, Sisters of the Road, and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, as well as over 200 individual Portlanders including workers, parents, business owners, and technologists, are arguing that the binding resolution is just the first step in urgent actions the council must take. In a letter sent to Portland City Council, they call for the City of Portland to pass the proposed surveillance policy resolution under consideration, and then adopt a strong surveillance ordinance for the city. This letter represents the first effort of an ongoing coalition effort for surveillance reform in Portland.
Chris Bushick, Director of PDX Privacy, explains “City leaders are currently considering the adoption of tools like police body cameras and gunshot detection technology, but without policies in place, how can they know whether technologies are being used in ways that are both legal and respect civil and human rights? How can they know whether the technologies are accurate and effective? Surveillance technologies can cause additional harm without solving the problem they were intended to address.”
Local public records collective P.R.A.D.A adds, “Safety is about thriving and being free from danger. Mayor Wheeler and PPB, in their limited imagination, define it as militarized surveillance that leads to police brutality. In order to help Portlanders thrive, we denounce any expansion of technology or resources used to further marginalize already minoritized people.”
“Surveillance products like license plate readers, video cameras, and the always-on microphones of gunshot detection technologies are tools that law enforcement and civilian vigilantes alike will turn to in order to identify, monitor, and punish abortion patients as well as families seeking gender-affirming care,” said Lia Holland (they/she), Campaigns and Communications Director for national digital rights organization Fight for the Future and Portland resident. “Portlanders are incredibly clear on preserving the rights of people seeking life-saving medical care, and should the city not move with urgency to limit and oversee surveillance and data collection in our communities, they are failing to represent the interests of the people they serve. This resolution is a good first step towards transparency and accountability for Portland’s rampant surveillance networks. But, our coalition is rightly demanding more. We need a robust surveillance policy that mandates real analysis and oversight of any surveillance technology that might be brought into our communities—and the risks of the data they collect, particularly to marginalized people.”