Do you know what kinds of surveillance technology your police or sheriff’s department is using to track the movements and activities of those they’re watching? Do you know how they use the technology, including how it’s decided whom to keep track of?

If your answer is No to both queries (as it must be) SB 21, now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and set for hearing next Friday, would keep you informed on these issues by requiring local law enforcement agencies to develop Surveillance Use Policies and get them adopted by the city council or county board of supervisors after consideration and pubic comment in open session. The policies would address:

a)  Authorized purposes for using the surveillance technology.

b) Types of data that can be and are collected by the technology.

c)  A description of the job title or other designation of each employee and independent contractor who is authorized to use the technology or to access data it collects.

d)  The title of the official custodian, or owner, of each surveillance technology responsible for legal compliance.

e)  A description of how each technology will be monitored to ensure the security of the information and compliance with applicable privacy laws.

f)  The length of time information gathered by each technology will be retained, and a process to determine if and when to destroy retained information.

g)  Purposes of, process for, and restrictions on the sale, sharing, or transfer of information to other persons, including whether, and if so how, the collected information can be accessed by members of the public, including criminal defendants.

h)  A process to maintain a record of access to technology or information it collects.i)  The existence of a memorandum of understanding or other agreement with another local agency or any other party, whether or not formalized, for the shared use of the technology or the sharing of the information collected through its use, including the identity of the parties.

The technology in question would include but not be limited to drones with cameras or monitoring capabilities, automated license plate readers, closed-circuit cameras / televisions, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) trackers, global positioning system (GPS) technology, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, biometric identification technology, and facial recognition technology.

Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), the bill’s author, says:

Over 100 law enforcement agencies in the state are thought to use some type of surveillance technology, and many deploy multiple kinds without any public oversight or rules of the road. These are powerful devices that can collect a wide array of information allowing even the smallest of law enforcement agencies to cheaply and easily know where you go, who you speak with, and what you do.

While technology can be used to improve public safety, its use should be balanced with reasonable safeguards for civil liberties and elected officials have the responsibility of safeguarding the rights to civilian oversight, privacy and other civil liberties, as we strive for a safer environment. SB 21 proposes reasonable safeguards to ensure that law enforcement is held accountable for how they use surveillance technologies – that they are used only to fight crime, as they are intended to do.


The League of California Cities joins law enforcement lobbying groups to oppose the bill. It wants the discussions by councils and boards to be confined to closed session, because requiring a deliberation in public “could potentially provide criminals with a road map as to how to evade law enforcement surveillance altogether.”