Seattle City Council calling for more control over use of surveillance


SEATTLE - The Seattle City Council is calling for more control over who can use surveillance cameras and drones.

 Many people were upset when a camera on Alki Boulevard in West Seattle went up.

 The camera is part of a Homeland Security grant that would place 30 cameras around the city to spot potential terrorist threats in Puget Sound, Elliot Bay and the Port of Seattle.

 City councilmembers initially signed off on the grant more than a year ago.

 But after questions about privacy and how the cameras would be used, a few councilmembers introduced a bill requiring city departments to get council permission to use surveillance cameras or drones.

 The departments would have to explain what data would be seen by the cameras and how the video or pictures would be used.

 "There's a proper place and a proper use.  But we just can't do it haphazardly and throw them up everywhere and not knowing what information is being collected or how it's being used," said Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata.

 Another contributor to the controversy were police drones that Seattle police bought and tested last year for specific cases in which a look from above could be helpful, such as in a hostage situation or in a crowded area where they wouldn’t be able to get a good look from the ground.

 But before the department was finished testing them, Mayor Mike McGinn permanently grounded the proposed aerial drone program out of concern for citizen privacy.

 The City Council will take up the issue of camera and drone oversight at the meeting Wednesday afternoon.