Questions remain about controversial surveillance cams

SEATTLE -- From Alki to Ballard, the watchers are being watched.

"Monitoring innocent people, or average, everyday people's activities -- that's where it crosses the line," said Seattle councilmember Nick Licata.

For weeks, the renewed debate over surveillance cameras along the waterfront areas of Seattle made politicians take notice.

Licata and fellow councilmember Bruce Harrell are co-sponsoring an ordinance to require all city departments to get council permission before any department even buys surveillance equipment.

"They have to provide the city council with protocols on how they will be used," Licata said.

But the rule comes almost a year after the council approved these cameras with almost no debate.

This new call for action only came after the cameras were up, criticism began, and the Problem Solvers {A href=""}pushed for answers.

"We approved a grant and then later on we discovered what the grant was actually purchasing," Licata said.

Multiple councilmembers say tough questions weren't asked because city agencies didn't disclose thorny privacy issues.

Licata was asked if there's concern that the council's standard operating procedure seems to be to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

"Yes, it's of concern," he said. "That's why we're passing an ordinance."

Licata admits the council needed to do a better job and this ordinance will create much-needed disclosure.

"I think it exposed how I think things work in general regarding the kind of technology edge that's going forward," he said.

The cameras are not active yet. The mayor's office said on Friday that there will continue to be a full public debate about usage and only after these issues have been resolved will that "on" switch be hit.

The ordinance will be discussed in committee Wednesday, March 6 at 2 p.m.
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