Ronnie Bastin the Stronger Lexington Mayoral Candidate on Privacy

After evaluating statements by both Lexington mayoral candidates, We See You Watching Lexington has determined Ronnie Bastin takes a stronger position on protecting privacy and establishing oversight for surveillance programs than Linda Gorton.

During a recent mayoral debate on WVLK moderated by Kruser, Bastin said the city needs to be careful how it uses surveillance technology and acknowledged it can “get out of hand.”

“I’m in favor of making sure that we don’t become Big Brother. I understand the concerns with that.”

Over the next four years, the Lexington government will make important decisions regarding the balance between privacy and the needs of law enforcement. The surveillance state continues to expand at breakneck speed with more and more local law enforcement agencies obtaining high-tech spy gear such as stingray devices, automatic license plate readers (ALPRs), sophisticated cameras and drones.

Lexington is no exception.

To date, the city has adopted a “figure it out as we go” approach. For instance, the city installed cameras in Berry Hill Skateboard Park with no discussion with neighbors and no policy in place to guide the retention and sharing of camera footage.

As Lexington purchases and implements more advanced and potentially intrusive technology, it is imperative that the city adopts policies the establish oversight and transparency for surveillance programs. The next mayor will play a key role in that process.

Bastin has indicated a willingness to work with the community to ensure this kind of oversight and transparency. In a statement sent to We See You Watching Lexington, Bastin said he “believes in the privacy rights of each citizen,” and that he would likely support a city ordinance to establish a policy of transparency.

“I would listen to the needs and desires of the community on this issue. If our citizens and council wanted such an ordinance, and it fell within the guidelines of federal and state law, I would support it.”

He also said he opposed the cameras in the park program spearheaded by Councilmember Fred Brown.

“I’m not in favor of having a broad usage cameras in public spaces. I think that’s something that people are concerned with. Honestly, I wasn’t in favor of putting a camera in a park. There were other ways I felt like we could address some of the issues in the park that had the first camera.”

We See You Watching Lexington director Mike Maharrey said he felt like the organization could probably work with a Bastin administration on surveillance issues.

“I still have my concerns. I’m always going to have concerns when it comes to politicians. But Bastin is saying the right things. He seems to recognize the importance of privacy. He’s indicated that he supports oversight and transparency – at least in theory. And most importantly, he’s expressed to us a willingness to have a discussion and welcome us to a seat at the table.”

Linda Gorton’s campaign never directly responded to We See You Watching Lexington’s questions. In a Facebook message to We See You Watching Lexington community outreach director Clay Davis, Gorton talked about the need for “balance” when it comes to privacy and the needs of law enforcement. She also said, “I don’t believe our community needs cameras in every public place like some bigger cities or some countries that surveil their people everywhere.”

But Gorton hasn’t articulated a solid position. She always seems to be hedging, talking in vague terms of balance and “figuring out what’s best for the community.” And she would not commit to supporting an ordinance to establish oversight and transparency.

In fact, during the WVLK forum, Gorton indicated she does not support complete transparency when it comes to surveillance.

“So, we are going to need to have a balance and as far as, you know, putting out into the public the whole detail of the plan, that may not necessarily be a smart thing to do, but we do need to be somewhat transparent in what we’re doing.” [Emphasis added]

Maharrey said “somewhat transparent” isn’t good enough.

“We need a policy of complete transparency and robust oversight when it comes to surveillance technology. And we need to have the policy in place before the city acquires more sophisticated spy-gear,” he said. “I’ve spent the last year fighting this city in court trying to get basic information about surveillance cameras. I don’t particularly want to have to spend more time cutting through Gorton’s ‘somewhat’ transparency down the road. We have ‘somewhat transparency’ now and it’s not working out very well for your average Lexingtonian.”

We See You Watching Lexington is working for the introduction and passage of a local ordinance that would take the first step toward limiting the unchecked use of surveillance technologies that violate basic privacy rights and feed into a broader national surveillance state.

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