A committee examining City of Madison surveillance policies is out with a new report. They’re recommending that all city divisions have policies on how they buy and use surveillance equipment, and how data acquired from the equipment is stored.
The committee was formed two years ago after residents complained that existing security cameras, which could rotate, zoom, and record video of private spaces and residencies, could infringe on their privacy rights.
At the time, council members also argued that policies were needed to protect Madison residents from unreasonable searches and maintain civil liberties like freedom of speech and association.
In last month’s report, the committee found that current oversight of what equipment is purchased is lacking, with few ways to hold city officials accountable if they misuse surveillance technology. There are also no training protocols to teach officials how to properly handle data.
The committee recommended that the city council approve any surveillance technology purchases by the city through “public processes” in order to maintain transparency. But those processes are still undefined.
Exceptions to the proposed approval processes would be made in cases of emergencies and for upgrades. Another committee recommendation calls for establishing an annual review process where all city agencies report their surveillance technology purchases, inventory and activities to the city council.
Under the proposed guidelines, the council would only approve surveillance technology if the benefits of the technology outweigh potential privacy violations and if the council deemed it necessary for a specific purpose. The guidelines do not apply to traffic detection cameras and emergency vehicle detectors on traffic cameras.
The city council will need to approve the proposed ordinance before it takes effect. Members of the council did not respond to a request for comment by the time of this broadcast.