FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 23, 2017
Cameras in Lexington Park Raise Broader Concerns About Government Surveillance
The recent installation of cameras in Berry Hill Skate Park raises broader concerns about government surveillance in Lexington.
Councilmember Fred Brown (Dist. 8) is spearheading the effort to place surveillance cameras in Lexington parks. The council budgeted $30,000 for a pilot project at Berry Hill.
“When we saw the utility pole go up, we thought, ‘Cool, they’re putting in lights so the kids can skateboard at night.’ In fact, that’s what workers told some of the skateboarders,” We See You Watching Lexington director Mike Maharrey said. “Next thing you know, we’ve got a spy pole in the park. The city never even asked for input from the neighborhood,”
The Urban County Council approved the camera system at Berry Hill by a 9-3 vote earlier this year. Angela Evans and Bill Farmer were the only councilmembers to raise privacy concerns.
“When I saw those cameras, it got me thinking – – is the city running other kinds of surveillance programs?” Maharrey said.
That remains unclear.
An open records request revealed the Lexington Police Department operates 29 mobile cameras “available for a variety of video surveillance operations.”
The LPD denied a request for documents relating to a wide range of surveillance technologies, including cell site simulators, automatic license plate readers and drones. Officials said the department doesn’t “possess” them, but it remains unclear if the it has access to surveillance gear through other agencies. The department also refused to release any written policies relating to the use its mobile cameras. The LPD cited statues exempting documents that could be related to anti-terrorism efforts.
“It’s all very hush-hush,” Maharrey said. “We have no idea how they store data, who they share it with, or what kind of policies are in place to protect privacy. Sadly, secrecy is the norm when it comes to surveillance nationwide.”
We See You Watching Lexington formed last month to push for better oversight of Lexington’s surveillance programs.
“We’re not saying police shouldn’t ever use surveillance. But the technology’s intrusive nature opens the door for abuse, including gross violations of basic privacy rights,” Maharrey said. “We want to ensure all surveillance programs in Lexington are transparent, and that government agencies remain accountable to the public and elected officials. That doesn’t seem to be the case right now.”
As a first step, We See You Watching Lexington is pushing for the city council to adopt a local ordinance that would take the first step toward limiting the unchecked use of surveillance technologies. This proposed legislation would require the LPD and other government agencies to develop a detailed surveillance plan, and get approval from the city council before obtaining any type of surveillance technology.