Controller Calls on L.A. to Better Protect Privacy from Surveillance Technology

LOS ANGELES — Today, L.A. Controller Ron Galperin released a report urging the City to strengthen its focus on protecting the privacy of local residents as it continues to modernize its services and operations. “Protecting Privacy Makes a Smarter L.A.” points out that, while new “smart” technologies used by the City — including police department body camera footage and license plate reader scans, fire department drones, surveillance cameras and real-time traffic data collection devices — can help make local government more efficient, they also put individual privacy at risk by collecting and analyzing potentially sensitive information. Galperin called for Los Angeles to create a clear and unified framework for evaluating privacy risks and addressing them to better protect Angelenos.

“Angelenos deserve a more modern and user-friendly city, but they also need to be absolutely sure that their government isn’t collecting and storing private information about them without a plan and without their knowledge,” said Controller Galperin. “Los Angeles can and must do better managing the smart technologies it uses to monitor traffic flow and bolster public safety while also protecting residents’ privacy. Real oversight and a unified approach to identifying and addressing privacy issues will both safeguard sensitive information and engender greater public trust.”

Although the City is in the process of developing some policies concerning smart technologies, L.A.’s current approach to privacy is scattered with each City department deciding what technologies it needs to collect information and how to use them. Galperin noted that this inconsistent approach is both disorganized and risky — creating unnecessary privacy concerns for Angelenos and lessening government accountability for its actions. He noted that there is no oversight body to assess the use of surveillance tools and no centralized way to define or inventory all the technologies the City uses.

EXAMPLES OF DATA COLLECTED BY L.A.

  • 847,077 hours of police body camera footage collected in 2020.
  • 3.6 million license plate reader scans in 2020.
  • 11,850 surveillance cameras operated by the City.
  • 499 drone deployments by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 2020.
  • 39 gigabytes of real-time traffic data processed daily.

PUT PRIVACY AT THE FOREFRONT

Galperin recommended that the City of Los Angeles must do more to protect the public’s privacy in line with guidelines established by the federal government, the State of California and other local jurisdictions by:

  • Establishing a privacy advisory board to support departments’ development of privacy policies and controls.
  • Defining surveillance technology and identifying the tech used by departments.
  • Developing a standardized surveillance impact assessment and reporting process.
  • Requiring departments to update surveillance impact assessments regularly.

Explore the report at lacontroller.com/protecting-privacy.

Follow L.A. Controller Ron Galperin at @LAController on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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