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Yesterday, the Seattle government announced that they are arranging for a public review on the different surveillance technologies used within the various Seattle departments. The City of Seattle Surveillance Ordinance was passed by the city’s council on 1st September 2017 and is designed to provide extended transparency to the council and the public when any new technology is acquired. It compels city departments to publish surveillance technology impact reports periodically and allows the public to comment.

This is a Group 2 Surveillance on certain technologies including meter-reading devices, 911 call logging systems, and the Seattle police online crime reporting tool. A previous public comment period–for Group 1 Surveillance technologies–was held from October 8 to November 5, 2018, for a set of different technologies. The public comment period for this group will be up to March 5, 2019. There will also be a surveillance technology fair hosted by the city on Feb. 27 at the city hall.

Technologies included in the Group 2 Surveillance review

Seattle Fire Department’s (SFD) computer-aided dispatch system

This includes information that 911 dispatchers gather for SFD calls. The system stores information like names and addresses, but that personal information is only available to select department personnel, SFD says.


This is a service Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) uses to collect traffic data. SDOT describes, “Acyclica collects unique phone identifiers, called a MAC address, using a sensor installed inside of traffic control cabinets and immediately encrypts the data. Acyclica then hashes and salts the data, anonymizing it by assigning a set of numbers and letters, then adding [a] random set of additional characters.”

Electricity theft detection

Seattle City Light uses a variety of technologies to check whether people are stealing electricity. These can include low-tech items like binoculars on up to an “Ampstick,” which measures voltage along power lines.

Seattle Police 911 system: The 911 recorder

Similar to the SFD system, dispatchers collect personal data to send police to emergency situations. SPD also has a CAD dispatch system up for review.


This is SPD’s online crime reporting system. This is where citizens enter personal information if they’ve been the victim of a crime.

According to a user comment on HackerNews, “Seattle uses WiFi MAC addresses to track traffic movements. While the data is currently hashed and anonymized, it wouldn’t surprise me if this data is eventually processed and combined with CV technology (specifically license plate readers and facial recognition tech) to provide detailed information on the movements of individuals.”

To know more about this announcement, visit Seattle.gov official website.

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