Menlo Park City Council: Privacy rules before surveillance expansion | October 2, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - October 2, 2013

Menlo Park City Council: Privacy rules before surveillance expansion

by Sandy Brundage

After several hours of sometimes spirited discussion, the Menlo Park City Council voted 5-0 on Sept. 24 to approve the purchase of three automated license plate readers and four surveillance cameras, but delayed deployment of the technology.

The license plate readers will be mounted on three patrol cars, one per beat. The readers capture two images of every vehicle visible with a 360-degree radius. The images, one of the license plate and one of the vehicle itself, would be automatically compared with a "hot sheet" listing alerts for vehicles associated with criminal activity. If no match is found, the images, along with the geographic coordinates of where the images were taken, are sent to a regional database for storage for up to 12 months.

The council opted to draft a privacy ordinance for the city as well as a memorandum of understanding with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the agency that will store the license plate data, to govern data retention and sharing. The regional agency is one of more than 70 centers nationwide affiliated with the National Fusion Center, which is under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security.

Council members Kirsten Keith and Ray Mueller volunteered to serve on a subcommittee that will create the MOU and privacy ordinance with the help of the city attorney. Both expressed a desire to consider keeping license plate data for six months rather than a year, the maximum length of storage time NCRIC provides. The ordinance may also include a clause making it illegal for any private vendors, such as repossession companies, to collect license plate data within Menlo Park using their own readers.

NCRIC representatives were on hand to answer questions during the council meeting. They stressed that the data is for use by law enforcement agencies, although data may also be provided to private sector companies categorized as "critical infrastructure" when evidence suggests those companies are potential targets of terrorist or criminal activity.

Mike Sena, director of NCRIC, said that "99 percent of the time" no one else is going to see the data apart from the local agency that collected it.

Councilman Rich Cline suggested that the Menlo Park police department be notified when another law enforcement agency accesses the city's license plate data and that the city be able to audit such requests. Ms. Keith wanted to include a clause in the MOU that requires the police department to approve any other agency's request.

The issue of surveillance cameras posed less of a dilemma, although where the cameras would be mounted remains to be determined. The council and police department shared stories of residents in Belle Haven as well as Sharon Heights requesting coverage in light of recent crimes.

The equipment "is not a silver bullet. It is not going to stop all crime everywhere," Police Chief Bob Jonsen told the council, but it will help with investigation. Multiple recent shootings within Belle Haven appear to have been carried out by the same people. "We have good leads on almost every single one of those shootings, and not one of those suspects we believe (is) from that neighborhood," he said, which illustrates why video footage of the shooters in action would aid investigators.

The cameras and license plate readers will be paid for with $107,682 from Menlo Park's general fund and $20,000 from a state law enforcement grant. Ongoing costs for this equipment are expected to be $6,500 annually.


There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Meet the winners!

The results are in. Check out The Almanac readers' favorite foods, services and fun stuff in the area.

View Winners