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A local victory offering a model to emulate

On June 15, I published a post on the EFF Deeplinks blog reporting on a local victory for transparency and accountability in Santa Clara County, CA, where policymakers took the seemingly obvious steps of requiring local authorities to seek their consent before buying sophisticated surveillance equipment, and reporting annually on how they deploy that equipment in their communities. It explains:

Santa Clara County—which encompasses much of Silicon Valley—set a new standard in local surveillance transparency after months of activism by residents and allies from across the Bay Area. Their efforts, and the policy it enabled, suggest an overlooked strategy in the national battle to curtail unaccountable secret mass surveillance.

While federal agencies play a controversial role in monitoring Americans, their local counterparts also conduct similar activities—not only in the context of counterterrorism, but also in the name of routine public safety. Concerns about the militarization of local police have long united Americans across the political spectrum, but the metastasis of surveillance platforms across local police departments, county sheriffs, and state highway patrols too often went largely unnoticed until recently.


The new measure will impose several requirements on all Santa Clara County agencies. First, it will require them to seek affirmative approval from the county Board of Supervisors before purchasing new surveillance equipment. It will also require agencies to develop usage policies providing protections for civil rights and civil liberties for the Board to review and approve. Finally, it will require annual reports to the Board enabling meaningful oversight of how agencies deploy surveillance equipment that the Board allows them to purchase.

While transparency to policymakers may sound like a no-brainer, the County is the first in the country to enact such a measure applicable not only to existing technologies, but also those yet to be developed in the future. 

As similar efforts proliferate across the country, we plan to invite local coalitions to collaborate on shared, decentralized campaigns to address continuing controversies at the federal level. For instance, grassroots efforts to seek greater transparency into police use of surveillance technology can build local networks poised to support the scheduled expiration next year of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

If you'd like to bring the battle to stop mass surveillance to your community, join the Electronic Frontier Alliance.

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