About Surveillance

The Surveillance Ordinance

The City of Seattle Surveillance Ordinance 125376 took effect on September 1, 2017 and is designed to provide greater transparency to City Council and the public when the City acquires any technology that meets the City's definition of surveillance.

The Surveillance Ordinance requires that:

  1. For each new technology that meets the criteria for surveillance, a City department must prepare a Surveillance Impact Report ("SIR"). These reports include an in-depth review of privacy implications, especially relating to equity and community impact.
  2. At least one community meeting with comments collected from that meeting submitted to Council via the SIR. Council may require departments to conduct additional community engagement on the technology.
  3. Council review and vote about the acquisition and deployment of all new and currently-used surveillance technologies.
  4. Regular, detailed reports on surveillance technology use, community equity impact, and non-surveillance technology acquisitions.

What is Surveillance?

Surveillance is defined as technologies that "observe or analyze the movements, behavior, or actions of identifiable individuals in a manner that is reasonably likely to raise concerns about civil liberties, freedom of speech or association, racial equity or social justice." Certain technologies, such as police body cameras and technologies for everyday office use, are excluded from the law.

Master List of Surveillance Technologies

The Master List of Surveillance Technologies (Master List) provides an overview of all technologies in current use at the City that meet the ordinance definition of surveillance. The Master List reflects the technologies and their "groupings", which was requested by the City Council to facilitate reviews of multiple technologies.

The original Master List of Surveillance Technologies was submitted to Seattle City Council on 11/30/2017. A Revised Master List was submitted to Seattle City Council in early 2019 to reflect changes to the review order. 

Surveillance Impact Report Stages

There are several stages in the surveillance technology review process. The stages are sequential and are as follows:

Graphic of Surveillance Impact Report Process

  1. Upcoming for review: This stage denotes that the technology is upcoming for review, but the department has not begun drafting the Surveillance Impact Report (SIR).
  2. Initial draft: Research and documentation about the technology is drafted and compiled during this stage.
  3. Public Comment: The initial draft of the SIR and supporting materials have been released for public review and comment. During this time, one or more public meetings will take place to solicit feedback.
  4. Final draft: During this stage the SIR, including collection of all public comments related to the specific technology, is being compiled and finalized.
  5. Working Group: The Surveillance Advisory Working Group will review each SIR final draft and complete a Civil Liberties and Privacy Assessment, which will then be included with the SIR and submitted to Council.
  6. SIR finalization: During this stage the final SIR is being compiled, including the CTO Response to the Working Group's Privacy and Civil Liberties Impact Assessment, fiscal note, and drafted legislation.
  7. Council Review: The technology is transmitted to City Council for review and determination for use.