Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
In another shining example of “The White Elephant in the room might go away” the City Council of Seattle approved, in an 11 minute consultation, to proceed with acting to implement a large surveillance system on Seattle waterways before a five million dollar Homeland Security grant would be forfeited due to a “use it or lose it” clause. And so far, nobody has decided how to use it.
The system originated from the city seeking and being approved for a five million dollar federal grant to purportedly prevent terrorist acts on the popular waterfront areas of Puget Sound. The system operated 28 cameras connected by a wireless network. It seems the hunger for free money was to be quickly satisfied before any sort of plan or discussion as to the privacy or constitutional implications was considered. The council none-the-less snapped at the money unanimously but now is in disarray as to what to do with this new system.
Incredibly, the cameras started making much discussion when they were being discovered by citizens visiting the waterfronts in January, many wondering where they came from. But as great of a mystery was what is the city going to do with the White Elephant’s friend, the 800 pound privacy gorilla now sharing the same council chamber.
The subject of the cameras led to a news expose by local news agency which in turn fueled a row among many in the public including a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union who was quoted as saying “We’d like them to not be turned on until we have really good privacy protections in place” and “All of this, we normally would like to see this happen before anything is purchased” But it became rather evident that no plan was ever considered seriously when the seduction of the free money was so enchanting to these officials to act before they thought.
Once councilmember, Mike O’Brien said “When federal money comes in, the financing drives our policy decisions”.
But, once the controversy ensued a sudden change of heart came to mind. The city council then reversed course and retroactively required the Seattle Police Department to explain the program, its intent, and to develop procedures to ensure that privacy be maintained. Later, in December, the council will vote on whether or not to allow the program to start the cameras rolling. A no vote would signal the cameras will not be turned on at all, that is nearly a year after they were first installed.
But regardless there reportedly is no timeline or deadline for the Seattle Police or the Mayor to release these rules the city is to follow regarding the cameras. Still Mayor Mike McGinn believes it was not a waste proclaiming “You know, we always like to get things done as efficiently as possible, but you also want to do it right the first time”
It might be argued that getting it right the first time could involve doing whatever it takes to get all the federal grant money possible in the beginning, then figuring out what to do with it at some indefinite time in the future, if at all.
Source: KOMO News