The City of Seattle announced a new citywide privacy initiative on Monday aimed at providing greater transparency into the city’s data collection and use practices.
The new initiative comes as the city collects more and more data and as emerging technologies are more apt to record and store data from a wide range of applications, including video, along with personal data on the city’s residents.
“This initiative is a chance to demonstrate to the people of Seattle that their local government is managing their personal information responsibly,” said city councilman Mike O’Brien. “It is yet another chance for Seattle to lead the nation on an important issue in people’s daily lives—we are not aware of any other cities proactively working to protect people’s privacy like this initiative sets out to do.”
To help put the initiative into place, Seattle convened a group of representatives from across the city’s including Seattle’s police, fire, public utility service, as well as it’s IT and legal staffs and the Seattle Public Library.
This team will create a set of principles that govern how Seattle approaches privacy-impacting decisions and a privacy statement that communicates the city’s privacy practices to the public. In addition, the group will propose an approach to educating Seattle departments on privacy practices and assess compliance.
“In the course of doing business with the public, the city is collecting and exchanging increasing amounts of data,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “As we continue to make innovative technology investments, we need to implement practices that support public trust in the security and privacy of personal information.”
Seattle expects to deliver a completed privacy statement and plan for implementation to the city’s council by June 2015.
One of the most sensitive areas facing Seattle will be how to handle data the police department collects.
In the wake of the incidents earlier this year in Ferguson, Missouri, there is a movement to equip police officers with video cameras that can record and store all of their interactions with the public to deter improper behavior and protect the citizens.
That movement, though, has its critics as civil liberty groups have raised concerns that the cameras could be used to improperly record citizens and invade their privacy. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have called for jurisdictions to work with citizens and civil liberties groups to come up with rules and standards to make sure the information collected is used properly.
That is in many ways what Seattle is trying to do with this initiative, something Seattle’s police leaders recognize.
“One of the challenges police departments face is how to maintain public trust while embracing new technologies to support officers in the field and using data to more effectively deploy resources to address crime and disorder issues,” said Seattle Police Department Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers.
“Protecting the privacy of citizens, while deploying useful technologies and being more data-driven as a department, is of paramount importance and is why this initiative is so critical,” he said.