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City council work session on surveillance technologies and digital justice

News Article
This work session aimed to provide the City Council with information and strategies to understand and mitigate impacts of surveillance technologies. There was a special emphasis on how local governments and communities have developed policies and strategies to regulate their use.

The Smart City PDX team, in collaboration with the Office of Equity and Human Rights, coordinated a work session with the Portland City Council on Surveillance Technologies and Digital Rights.

The work session allowed City Commissioners to discuss the overall strategies for developing the City of Portland’s comprehensive surveillance technologies policy.

This work session is a continuation of the City of Portland’s Privacy and Information Protection Principles and policies that ban face recognition technologies.

Work session


The work session was divided into two sections. The first section was dedicated to how the Cities of Seattle and Oakland are implementing their privacy and surveillance technologies policies.

Ginger Armbruster, Chief Privacy Officer of the City of Seattle, and Brian Hofer, Chair of the City of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission, joined us in the work session and shared best practices, lessons learned, and recommendations to develop an improved surveillance technologies policy. 

The second section of the work session opened to community members who shared impacts of surveillance technologies on Portlanders. Sarah T. Hamid from the Carceral Tech Network, Alan Hipolito from SUMA, and Romeo Sosa from the Portland Immigrants Rights Coalition shared their experiences and expertise. 

We were honored to have all the speakers joining us in this work session. We understand that these views are not all the views, but just a segment of experiences around surveillance technologies. 

Meeting recording

View presentations, materials, and discussion from the work session in this video.

Comments from the work session

“Technology and information should benefit the whole community, regardless of who you are,” said Commissioner Carmen Rubio. “That is digital justice, and it’s what we should strive for in Portland.”

City Commissioners were engaged and started conversations about how the City of Portland can modernize its digital infrastructure and protect Portlanders and visitors’ personal and sensitive information.

The work session highlighted the importance of privacy impact assessments in the use and procurement of surveillance technologies, as well as for information management. 

Good privacy and surveillance policies increase public trust, assure legal compliance, and make City operations more efficient. 

It is important to have a good definition of what surveillance technologies are. This definition should guide the process for assessing impacts and the creation of an inventory.

A model similar to the one that the City of Oakland is more recommended. This model has built community credibility, less bureaucracy, less cost.

The Oakland model can be supported with internal city staff dedicated to the support of privacy services like privacy impact assessments, training, and city bureau consulting services.

Governance and oversight of surveillance technologies could follow a community-led model for participatory development of the surveillance policy.


Community guests

Community guest speakers were invited to participate and share different aspects of community impacts of surveillance technologies. This list is limited and we are aware that there are so many more voices not part of this event.

Our guest community speakers brought important issues to the work session. The following are quotes from their participation:

"…communities that are most often caught between vulnerability and the need for public services on the one hand, and a historically accepted diminished expectation for privacy and data sovereignty. That intersection is really important because it means that our communities are having to effectively barter their right to control and data sovereignty in exchange for meeting basic needs." - Sarah T. Hamid.

"My hope is that Portland, like many governments, is recognizing it absolutely has to transition from reactive, episodic tech policymaking to an inclusive, transparent and well-organized tech policymaking practice…" - Alan Hipolito

"They told us that Surveillance is the smart way for the future, but we know it is all part of the enforcement system that is attacking and harming our communities and controlling the anti deportation movement." - Romeo Sosa

You can hear the full community guest speakers testimonies in the meeting recording.

What's next?

After this work session, our Smart City PDX team is planning education and participatory policymaking events in collaboration with the Office of Equity and Human Rights and the Smart City PDX Community Leads 2021-22 cohort. 

A calendar of events will be published in February 2022 with a plan and a process map to develop the surveillance technologies policy.

Our team will follow up with all City commissioners to specific requests from the work session:

  • Provide information about the current legal landscape of privacy laws applicable in Oregon. 

  • Review impacts of the face recognition technology policy

  • Prepare examples of surveillance technologies reports from the City of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission.

Learn more about the Surveillance Technologies Policy.

Portlanders can submit comments by email to Remember that any information submitted to us becomes public records and it is subjected to public records laws.