One of the broadest pushes to reel in America’s surveillance state isn’t in Congress, the White House or a courtroom; arguably it’s in Joe Simitian’s office in California’s Santa Clara County government building.
Privacy advocates say the Santa Clara regulation would be one of the broadest anti-surveillance measures being considered anywhere in the US. As Washington remains deadlocked over how to put a leash on an ever-growing list of surveillance technology used by state and local police departments, it will probably be up to city councils and county boards to play watchdog.
His efforts come as Congress and states have moved to regulate specific electronic surveillance methods, such as aerial drones, bulk telephone record collection, and devices that impersonate a cell tower to intercept calls.
But making laws takes a lot of time, and as new bits of spy kit continuously show up it can be hard to keep pace.
So Simitian’s draft ordinance would require the local sheriff or any county agency to get board approval if it wants to buy any new piece of surveillance technology or use an existing system in a new way. This applies to any “technological tool used, designed or primarily intended to collect … information specifically associated with, or capable of being associated with, any individual or group”.