At a time when citizens are calling out for renewed openness and transparency at City Hall, this is a disappointing step backwards. Because the amount was below $100,000, this contract did not require the authorization of Boise City Council before it was signed, but rather was a decision made by the current mayor's administration. The administration’s decision to invest in and deploy surveillance technology without a full discussion of the impacts and rules around its use isn’t acceptable to me.
Of course we need to keep our valued City of Boise employees safe. That’s a given. But it’s our job as public officials to do so in a way that doesn’t undercut our city’s values.
We need a public process to ensure that these technologies are implemented in the right way, safeguarding people’s safety, privacy and liberties. Without a public discussion of who has access to this information, how can we assure the public that their privacy is safe? Who will have access to the database? What security will be in place to protect breaches of data? How does a person know if they are in the database? Should every person doing simple business at City Hall (like paying parking tickets, filing an application, or attending a council meeting) have to consent to this kind of surveillance? The public deserves a full understanding of this technology and its management before a penny of their tax dollars are spent.
Matters of public interest warrant transparent public discussions. Does it take more time and effort? Absolutely. But I firmly believe that investing time and care when people’s privacy, liberties, and tax dollars are on the line is the very essence of public service.
UPDATE (July 26th): I’m encouraged by the City of Boise’s decision to back off this controversial technology for now, and I hope that any future discussion will be given the transparency, care and thought it deserves. There's a lot we can learn from other cities on keeping our valued staff safe, and I'm committed to options that don't infringe on our city values and residents' privacy.
Link to the original story here.
Link to the updated story here.