New Anti-Surveillance Legislation Passed in California

The western state of California became the first state in which voters decided to pass anti-surveillance technology legislation on Tuesday. Constituents in Santa Clara County passed a new law designed to regulate the deployment of electronic surveillance systems. The authors of the legislation indicated they hoped the bill would serve as a model for legislation that other locales around the nation might also adopt.

Santa Clara County sits within the San Francisco Bay area, and serves as the home of many high-tech firms. Voters adopted an idea first advanced by the Restore the Fourth Legislative Working Group. The new ordinance counters the secret installation of any mass surveillance outdoor video cameras in the county, as well as license plate readers and cell phone interception devices and drone surveillance technologies. It requires government agencies deploying these technologies to take three steps beforehand: conduct public debates before deployment; provide procedures for public reporting about the use of the surveillance on a yearly basis; and impose criminal penalties for intentionally flouting the debate and reporting requirements.

Matt Cagle, a spokesman for the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, praised the comprehensive scope of the Santa Clara County ordinance as a way to protect civil liberties and personal privacy. Sheriff Laurie Smith indicated that she hoped the new legislation would not make it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to cooperate and exchange information. An Assistant District Attorney in the county predicted the new law would generate increased documentation requirements.