Historical Surveillance Sites and sources

Seattle Surveillance History

Surveillance practices in the 1960s and '70s in Seattle led to an ordinance, which was the first of its kind in the country, which prohibited surveillance of individuals or groups based only on their political views. The law bans gathering information about a person's religious or political affiliations, beliefs or activities, unless there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is involved in criminal activity. The Seattle Intelligence Ordinance was developed in response to revelations that the Seattle Police Department had been conducting surveillance of political activities and maintaining files on hundreds non-criminal organizations and their members. The files, which contained unsubstantiated and/or false statements about citizens' activities, were shared between law agencies as fact.

Developing Problems

For middle class consumers, the financial, medical, and marketing industries and their thirst for more information about us is an invasion. For younger people, it is probably the education system and the evaluations-SAT, ACT, LSAT, grade point average and other assessments-which have now become part of their easily traceable, permanent record. For lower class and citizens of color, it is the police-with driving while black policies, profiling, and life under what appears to be an ongoing premise of "reasonable suspicion." The use of a civilian auditor protects the "public." The auditor not only reports to the chief of police, but can also reveal violations of the law publicly, which is where the law could create problems.

Growing Debate

A year ago a debate was reopened as to if the ordinance should be removed. The police chief suggested that the 1979 city law limiting police intelligence gathering could hamper local law enforcement's ability to investigate terrorism. The concern was whether the law could lead to sensitive information being released to the public, because a civilian auditor must be given access to all files that police have, even if the intelligence was gathered by a third party.