ACLU calls Cambridge, MA’s new surveillance ordinance a ‘victory’

City departments will now have to get approval from the City Council before they can implement any new surveillance technology.

The council adopted a proposed surveillance ordinance Monday night after two years of community meetings and collaboration with the Police Department and the ACLU.

The ordinance also requires city officials to get approval to use technologies already in use in different ways, according to a statement from the ACLU. Technologies covered by the ordinance include automatic license plate readers, video surveillance, biometric surveillance technology including facial and voice recognition software and databases, social media monitoring software, police body-worn cameras and predictive policing software.

The ordinance would also require city officials to get approval from the council in order to turn on eight cameras the Department of Homeland Security installed in the city in 2009, designed to help 911 dispatchers view evacuation routes during public emergencies, according to Jeremy Warnick, communications director for Cambridge Police.

“If they were activated, as far as I am aware, we would go through the same public deliberation,” Warnick said.

Councilor Craig Kelley said the goal of the ordinance is to make sure the city government doesn’t engage in unwarranted surveillance in Cambridge, and provides elected officials oversight over the use of such technologies.