HARTFORD – Tonight, members of the Hartford City Council, joined by statewide and local civil liberties organizations, immigrants’ rights organizations, youth and children’s rights organizations, and an LGBTQ rights organization, spoke out in favor of a proposed city ordinance to create democratic controls to city use of surveillance technologies. The proposal, introduced by City Councilmembers Wildaliz Bermúdez, Thomas J. Clarke III, Claudine Fox, rJo Winch, and Larry Deutsch, would require Hartford government agencies, including the police department, to seek and acquire City Council approval before purchasing, seeking funding for, or acquiring surveillance technology.
Hartford City Council Minority Leader Wildaliz Bermúdez said: “Requiring City Council approval and public debate about a city agency’s proposal to use surveillance technology is a logical step toward government transparency, accountability, and democracy in Hartford. Anyone who cares about justice, equality, and making our city stronger and safer should embrace this logical effort to create meaningful public debate and democratic controls over high-powered government surveillance in our city.”
Hartford Councilman Thomas J. Clarke III said: “As city councilmembers, we have an obligation to make sure Hartford spends its limited resources on things that will truly make our city better. This ordinance is a commonsense step toward making sure that Hartford residents and City Council have the information to make educated, democratic decisions about whether and when our city government uses high-powered surveillance technology, if at all.”
Hartford Councilwoman rJo Winch said: “City residents and public officials should not be in the dark about the surveillance technology police are using in our names with our hard-earned tax dollars. Right now, Hartford residents do not have the full picture of police surveillance in our city, and that needs to change. I proudly support this proposed ordinance, which will create critical democratic controls and shed much-needed light on police surveillance in our city.”
Camila Kritzman, Hartford Organizer, CT Students for a Dream, said: "As an organization that organizes for the rights of our immigrant community, we are particularly concerned about the impact that the use of drones and surveillance will have on our immigrant community in Hartford. We are concerned that unless proper rules and protocols are instituted on the use of drones and surveillance technology by the City of Hartford there will be a potential of increased collaboration between Hartford police and federal immigration agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which will result in directly putting our Hartford immigrant community in danger of being targeted and deported.”
Melvin Medina, Director of Strategic Initiatives, ACLU of Connecticut, said: “Hartford residents deserve better than lip service for our civil rights and liberties. We deserve meaningful democratic control over police surveillance, particularly at a time when the rights of people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, political activists, religious minorities, and others have been violated by government surveillance nationwide. With this ordinance, Hartford’s City Council has the chance to show that in a democracy, people should have the ultimate say over what the government does in our names.”
Leon Smith, Racial Justice Project Director, Center for Children’s Advocacy, said: “We strongly support this ordinance because it is needed to ensure that the privacy rights of children and youth are appropriately protected and not violated by this new technology, and to ensure that the communities of color where many of these children and youth live in Hartford are not disproportionately targeted by law enforcement through unchecked use of this technology. We believe that regulations are needed to guarantee that the overall rights of children and youth, their parents, and the communities that they live in have a voice in how this type of powerful and potentially intrusive technology is utilized, if at all.”
Joining the councilmembers and organizations listed above were representatives from Hartford Deportation Defense, True Colors, Grow Hartford Youth, New Youth Media, and more.
Across the country, other cities, including Somerville, Massachusetts, Seattle, Washington, Oakland, California, and Nashville, Tennessee have passed similar ordinances to ensure sure police cannot acquire surveillance technologies in secret. In Hartford, police acquire surveillance technology without seeking or obtaining City Council approval and without the opportunity for formal public debate. The ordinance proposed in Hartford would:
- Require City Council approval before any law enforcement entity funds, acquires, or uses any surveillance technologies, including the continued use of existing technologies
- Prohibit the City Council from granting approval for any surveillance technologies until the public is given a full and fair opportunity to voice its opinions before the Council
- Require the police or other city agency to publicly report the financial costs of using the technology and to acknowledge the potential risks the surveillance technology poses to civil rights and civil liberties (and to propose legally enforceable safeguards to prevent such adverse impacts from materializing)
- Require annual data reporting requirements, so discriminatory or other inappropriate uses can be readily identified, stopped, and penalized
- While most local surveillance technologies are used by police departments, the proposed legislation covers technologies used by all city government entities.
For video footage of ordinance proponents announcing their support before tonight’s City Council hearing: https://www.facebook.com/aclu.connecticut/videos/2199761190346710