Watchdog report says Cleveland surveillance tech lacks transparency

CLEVELAND — A new report by Cleveland police watchdogs is calling out the city. The Cleveland Community Police Commission says there is no policy for accountability or input by taxpayers on how police use smart surveillance technologies. The report released Monday highlights drones, ShotSpotter and cameras with facial recognition. The […]

CLEVELAND — A new report by Cleveland police watchdogs is calling out the city. The Cleveland Community Police Commission says there is no policy for accountability or input by taxpayers on how police use smart surveillance technologies.

The report released Monday highlights drones, ShotSpotter and cameras with facial recognition.

The group recommends Cleveland adopt best practices from the city of Oakland, California.

You see Cleveland police cameras all over downtown, but what do you know about them and how they are used?

The Community Police Commission says it’s not as open of a discussion as it should be.

“The city is bringing in technology into policing in Cleveland without any policy, without any community input at all,” said Gordon Friedman, CPC Commissioner and chair of the Commission’s Search and Seizure Work Group, Technology Committee.

The commission put out a report on Cleveland’s emerging police surveillance technology.

The report claims the committee found no evidence technologies used by the city, including drones, license plate readers and smart cameras possibly using facial recognition, were implemented in the spirit of the Consent Decree.

We asked Friedman why the public should be concerned.

“Well, you’re paying for it if you’re a city resident, and you should know what’s going on. It may include you, it may benefit you, it may harm you,” said Friedman.

The report recommends Cleveland immediately adopt best practices similar to the ones in Oakland, including its definition of surveillance technology and full disclosure to the public about its use.

The report also calls for Cleveland to establish a privacy advisory commission.

“Oakland was one of the first communities to adopt a local ordinance that requires that kind of transparency accountability,” said Brian Ray, Director of the Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Cleveland State University.

Ray says direct surveillance technologies raise substantial concerns beyond privacy.

“Civil liberties concerns, First Amendment issues, and just generally, there’s the question around over deployment of these in communities of color,” Ray said.

Ray says there is a need for a mechanism to provide basic information that doesn’t have to be case-specific.

Ray said police surveillance policies should include considerations like: “Here’s the kind of data we plan to collect, here’s how long we’ll keep it, here’s who has access to it, and on the security side, here’s how we’re going to make sure that bad actors can’t have access to this.”

The report even brings up the city council’s safety committee discussion about security cameras last month.

That discussion stopped when questions were raised about facial recognition capabilities.

“Do we have systems where it has face recognition?” asked Safety Committee Vice Chair Joe Jones.

The city’s Chief Innovation Technology Officer Froilan Roy Fernando responded to questions.

“In other cases where there is potential crime, maybe that camera can be programmed to identify facial recognition, yes,” said Fernando.

Public Safety Director Karrie Howard then made this statement before the discussion ended: “What I would like to do if possible, if we could speak on the capacity of the camera systems privately.”

“That’s exactly what our report is against, that issue involving facial recognition should be out in the public discussion at least,” said Friedman.

Friedman says they’re not saying no to modern technologies, but the group wants city leadership to consider the recommendations and have the report serve as an outline for the new commission.

News 5 did reach out to Cleveland police with a request to speak with the Public Safety Director about the report, as well as Councilman Jones about his concerns, but haven’t heard back.

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