Some very good news today.
BPD Chief Cook listened to the privacy concerns of the majority of City Council, and the community comments at large and committed to not pursuing a Data Collection software program with BPD grant money. He deserves a thank you from the community because technically he didn't have to follow council's recommendation. A+ for privacy and thanks to those who stayed late to speak!
Thanks due as well to those Council members who concern themselves with privacy, potential abuse and corporate data collection.
(Submitted by Janet M.)
(Submitted by Karen Weill & Larry Hildes)
We're asking people who are concerned about the increase in spying in our society to please come to the City Council meeting this Monday, July 7th, at 7 p.m. (6:30 p.m. to sign up to speak), in order to speak out against the City buying this new software that they claim will simply make officers and the community safer, but that is so wide open for abuse as to drive a truck through the opening.
City Council meeting
7 p.m. Monday, July 7th
City Council chambers, 201 Lottie St. (behind the downtown library)
Intrado is a software that was developed in partnership with the same company that provides the software for 9-1-1 calls. What it does is search the internet based on a series of parameters that have been given for the search, and pops up with any kind of information for a particular person or location where you request information. So, if anyone in that particular house has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime that information will come up. (BPD states they will only ask for crimes of violence, such as assault or homicide.)
BPD can give us the parameters they intend to ask to limit the searches for. But in a meeting with a representative today, they could not give us the parameters that the company, Entrado itself, uses in developing the so-called "threat score." Deputy Chief Doll said that was proprietary information.
Given that this is a private company, they are not subject to the same Public Records Act (state equivalent to Freedom of Information Act requests) that government agencies are subject to, so unless the company is forced to give this information to the City Council as part of the buying process now being considered, we may never know how these threat scores are developed.
As part of the concern: We do know that Intrado's threat score is partially based on social media statements. If someone has made any threatening statements on the internet, that goes into the score. But who knows how much weight is given to this? So someone who rails against the government or against police abuse, can they expect that if they call 9-1-1 or someone calls 9-1-1 about them, that they will be facing guns drawn because of the Intrado score?
Just because the department has assured us they can set up strict guidelines for its use currently, doesn't mean it will stay that way. When we asked Dep. Chief Doll how the department will maintain those safeguards after he leaves, he simply said that once an ethical culture has been set up in an organization, it tends to continue.
We also don't know what the company does with the information that gets gathered. The company maintains records on all searches done by BPD -- but Dep. Chief Doll did not know if Intrado, again a private company not subject to FOIA or PRAs, maintains the information resulting from a search in its own servers.
While there are many good police officers in the BPD, there are also officers who have shown they cannot be trusted. BPD overall has a good record with us, but I would be shocked if there aren't officers who would misuse this information. The search engine can establish next of kin and associates, which invites targeting of whole groups of people in ways they cannot do now.
There are so many ways this is set up for abuse, no matter the best intentions of the department. We believe that this is first step on a slippery slope to further eroding the last of the civil liberties, particularly our privacy, that we have left. It isn't just happening at the federal level folks -- now they want to develop this at the local level, too.
The times that this may help in an occasional situation doesn't justify the loss of privacy and civil liberties that the rest of us will experience.
Please come to the City Council meeting this Monday, July 7th, at 7 p.m., to hear the staff report and express your opinion about this software.
Karen (Weill) and Larry (Hildes)
Read the Grant submission to the Bellingham City Council
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