Last night, 3/13/18, the Berkeley City Council made George Orwell (aka Eric Arthur Blair) rest a little easier in his grave. It became the first municipality in California and quite possibly the United States to vote in favor of a strong Surveillance Equipment Regulation Ordinance (Santa Clara County in California passed a similar ordinance in 2016).
On a unanimous vote, 9-0, the City Council passed an ordinance more than a year and a half in the making. The ordinance was proposed by Councilperson Kris Worthington and privacy and civil liberties advocates from Oakland Privacy, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the summer of 2016, and subsequently recommended unanimously back to the Council by Berkeley's Peace and Justice and Police Review Commissions.
When enacted (City ordinances need two votes, or "readings" - this was the first) the new law will make transparent the process for acquiring surveillance equipment and software, such as cell phone interceptors and facial recognition analysis algorithms. New acquisitions will have to go through a public process and have a civil liberties and cost/benefit analysis. Those wanting the technology will have to specify what the equipment may and may not be used for, and all of this will have to be approved by the City Council before acquisition. Existing surveillance equipment must also come out of the shadows and have a use policy approved by the Council. All equipment usage will be subject to periodic reviews.
Berkeley's new law will ensure that while Big Brother may be allowed to watch under defined criteria, it will be the people defining the criteria, and the people who will be able to watch Big Brother watching us.