Categories: culturegovernment

Shining a Light on Surveillance

In recent years, local law enforcement agencies have relied more heavily and liberally on the use of surveillance equipment. In coordination with a nationwide campaign, Pensacola City Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn announced Sept. 21 that she will lead a local legislative effort to bring more transparency to the use of such technologies.

The city councilwoman plans to work with her fellow council members, as well as the Pensacola Police Department, to introduce an ordinance which would require council approval prior to the purchase or use of such surveillance equipment.

“We need an ordinance that governs, not just a policy,” Cannada-Wynn said in a released statement. “Policies change through simple discussions; ordinances require government transparency, accountability, and pubic input.”

Wynn’s efforts are in conjunction with a collective of organizations, part of the Nationwide Surveillance Accountability Campaign. The effort is being headed up by the American Civil Liberties Union, with local participants including the Pensacola chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as Veterans for Peace of Pensacola and the Libertarian Party of Northwest Florida.

“The use of surveillance by local police has been spreading unchecked across the country without regard for the communities that they purport to serve,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. “Today communities and their local elected officials are taking action to address the disparate impact, financial burden, and threats to civil rights and liberties posed by invasive surveillance technologies.”

Eleven cities across the country are participating in this initial phase of the Surveillance Accountability campaign. In addition to Pensacola, there is Hattiesburg, Miss.; Madison, Wis.; Miami Beach, Fla.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Muskegon, Mich.; New York, N.Y.; Palo Alto, Calif.; Richmond, Va.; Seattle, Wash.; and Washington, D.C.

“This issue didn’t just arise,” Keyontay Humphries, ACLU of Florida Regional Organizer based in Pensacola, said in a statement.  “For decades, political and social justice leaders and their organizations have been victims of government surveillance. It has escalated to the point that we’re now seeing technology used in war being used on civilians right here in our communities. This is an opportunity for Pensacola to lead the nation in engaging citizens in decisions about if and how surveillance technologies are acquired and used locally.”

The use in the Sunshine State of one particular type of technology — Stingrays, which are used to track cell phone locations — is detailed in a 2015 report released by the ACLU. Throughout the state, local law enforcement agencies, in partnership with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, have made use of the devices. Since 2008, the report states, the FDLE had spent more than $3 million purchasing Stingrays and related equipment.

In Pensacola, the ACLU report details, the police department has employed Stingrays, or cell site simulators, in five instances (at the time the report was released). The department stated that it had not purchased a Stingray;  the Tallahassee Police Department and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, however, do have an FDLE sharing agreement which covers the “Tallahassee and Pensacola Regions.”

Cannada-Wynn said that she thinks Pensacola should be at the forefront of this conversation concerning the use of surveillance equipment by the authorities, and the rules governing such use.

“If Pensacola is to continue to be a leader in the region and even the state, we need an ordinance,” the city councilwoman said.

To view the ACLU’s 2015 report detailing the use of surveillance equipment by Florida’s local law enforcement agencies, click here.

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