Saturday, July 27, 2013

Seaside is considering a city-wide Surveillance System

message from Felix Bachofner (the former mayor of Seaside):
The City of Seaside is proposing the first steps of instituting a citywide surveillance system dubbed STEMA.  [Please attend the meeting at Seaside City Hall at 4 p.m. this Thursday, August 1, 2013 to speak against this proposal.  Evidence of how problematic this proposal is and talking points provided below.]
I hope you will agree this has hugely negative connotations regarding individual (and collective) rights and liberties. Unfortunately, knowing the council I would expect this to get significant traction with at least three members (two of whom are public safety officers and the Mayor who seems more for bigger rather than leaner government).
This proposal is therefore only stoppable with a SIGNIFICANT participation by freedom and civil liberties minded stakeholders both at the first presentational meeting (4 pm, Thursday, August 1, 2013) and any subsequent meeting where an implementation vote might be taken. [NOTE: this item *may* have specifically been agendized for 4 p.m. to minimize public attendance and participation.  On the other hand, a large crowd advocating AGAINST this proposal may have a correspondingly greater chance of success (i.e. significant input probably won't be expected).]
The system is proposed to assist with solving crimes such as recent raft of shootings in the city during the past 12 months.  Never mind that virtually ALL these shootings have resulted in fairly quick arrests due to conventional detective work (not taking away from patrol time) and significant witness participation contrary to the generalized negative claims in the report.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is quite strongly opposed to such surveillance systems and has even pointed out that "The use of surveillance cameras, unfortunately, comes at the expense of proven crime reduction measures such as better lighting, foot patrols, and community policing. In this sense, throwing money at video surveillance actually detracts from law enforcement's efforts to reduce crime."
With the chance that the system is ineffective or not particularly effective, one of the biggest concerns with such a citywide (at full build-out) surveillance system is one of almost certain "mission creep."  Capabilities will grow exponentially as software capabilities become better.  Once the cameras are installed and images are capable of being captured, in the future the system might be upgraded (relatively simply with "improved" software) and be used to automatically prosecute offenses such as speeding, improperly licensed vehicles, and or far greater concern someday, maybe because your hair has not been cut to "specification" (only kidding ever so slightly).
The history of surveillance (particularly general surveillance, like this) shows that it unfortunately does NOT bode well for people's civil rights.  A contemporary British report (Britain has the most government operated mass video surveillance) by Clive Norris, University of Hull and Gary Armstrong, University of Reading, for example, showed that people of color were two-and-a-half times more likely to be monitored and one in 10 women were monitored entirely for voyeuristic reasons.
Depending on statutes of limitations and how badly the city needs money at any given point, an "improved" system could be used to look backwards (in time), for example, to issue citations when current quarter revenues do not meet expenditures.
Federal and state government surveillance programs are growing rampantly (NSA's PRISM, for example).  Our last chance to stop or slow down this domestic-focused militaristic and Orwellian march of "progress" (against personal and social freedom) is at the local level.  If this local proposal is not halted, it will just be a matter of time before this system can be integrated into the larger state and federal system making such programs even more onerous.
Please attend the meeting at 4 p.m. this Thursday to speak against this proposal.  Reach out to as many freedom and civil liberties oriented Monterey Peninsula stakeholders as you can too!  [Keep in mind, anyone who passes through Seaside will be affected if this goes forward.]
The staff report is on page 48 here: []
As an interesting aside, not one single potential negative aspect is listed in the staff report.  In addition to the negative examples I indicated above, one notable point is that these are internet connected cameras.  This means the system is much more easily "hackable" than a closed circuit system (which I would also oppose on the basis of all the other issues related to government sponsored general surveillance).
Why could hacking be a problem?  Well, for one, criminals could actually use the system to their advantage.  Example: a hacker could use the cameras in real time to identify when the last police patrol passed through.  Then such a criminal could use the presumed "window" to perpetrate a crime just outside the view of the camera in question. This possibility is PARTICULARLY dangerous should PG+E's WiFi smart meters ever be hacked.  At such point a criminal could EASILY determine when someone is NOT home and police are NOT likely to be close by to thwart a crime, resulting in the perfect opportunity to wreak criminal havoc at a "high-value" target.
Thanks for considering helping me stop this particular government intrusion.  Please reach out to all your friends with Seaside and Monterey Peninsula interests at heart.
[signed] Felix Bachofner, Former Mayor, City of Seaside, CA

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