Seattle surveillance cameras have ACLU's antennas up

Feb 15, 2013

Civil liberties advocates are raising concerns about a network of 30 surveillance cameras installed along Seattle’s shoreline, purchased with a $5 million dollar federal grant. When the measure first came up in city council last year, Seattle Police Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh said it was all about Port security.  

“The idea here was to strategically place cameras, video cameras, around the waterfront area that monitored the shoreline and the waterway,” McDonagh said.

At that meeting, Chairman Bruce Harrell voted to approve the cameras. He said he was surprised to learn later that some of the cameras are in residential areas and can rotate 360 degrees, as first reported by the West Seattle Blog.

“We can’t do what the police department just did, and that is not be as forthright on the capabilities of the camera, and then install them ad ns see how the community reacts,” Harrell said.

The Seattle Police Department says it can take steps to prevent the cameras from peering into homes, such as masking them digitally.

But advocates say the whole program should have gotten more scrutiny. The ACLU of Washington is pushing for a more open process for considering surveillance projects.

“We’re calling for having public input and a clear explanation before the city accepts grants and implements surveillance technology,” said spokesman Doug Honig.

The ACLU points out this controversy comes just as the city is backing off from deploying police drones after public outcry. The City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology committee will take up the cameras again on Wednesday.