There is so much goodness in the 260-page D.C. Police Reform Commission report released last week, but one thing that we are especially excited about is the Commission included a recommendation that the D.C. Council pass surveillance oversight legislation “to ensure that decisions about whether District agencies should acquire, use, or share surveillance technologies are made with thoughtful consideration and buy-in from the public and elected lawmakers, and that the operation of approved technologies is governed by rules that safeguard residents’ rights and provide transparency.”
In endorsing legislation that Community Oversight of Surveillance – D.C. (COS-DC) has been advocating for the past few years, the Police Reform Commission recognized the significant dangers of unchecked government surveillance, especially to communities that are already targets of racially biased policing.
COS-DC is a coalition of local and national organizations working to bring oversight to D.C. government surveillance. Our bill calls for transparency and oversight of what technologies are being used, when and how they’re used, and how data from that tech (such as video surveillance footage) is stored, how long it’s retained, who it’s shared with, and more. The residents of D.C. deserve to know how our government is using taxpayer funds to surveil us.
And while the police are commonly thought of as the primary users of surveillance technology, our bill requires all D.C. agencies to submit to this oversight. That means if D.C. Public Schools decided to install facial recognition technology, as one school district in New York state did, the D.C. public would know about. If our new streetlights had surveillance cameras, like the ones in San Diego, the D.C. public would know about it. And if that dockless scooter you just used was submitting real-time location tracking to the government, the D.C. public would know about that, too.
The commission’s report also noted the problem of police surveillance throughout its entire report: over immigrant communities, in Black communities, and in our public schools. In so doing, the commission acknowledged how this kind of surveillance impacts all D.C. residents, and recognized the importance of robust oversight. We look forward to the Council taking action on this and other recommendations in the report.
You can learn more about the COS-DC coalition at takectrldc.org.