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Smart City PDX proposes a policy to guide the City’s use of surveillance technologies

News Article
Developed with and for the community, the surveillance policy focuses on reducing harm to those most vulnerable to and harmed by surveillance technologies.

The City of Portland does not yet have a policy that guides its use of surveillance technologies. Surveillance technology means any electronic or analog device, equipment, software, information or associated data system that is designed for the purpose of surveillance. 

Surveillance technologies have affected community groups in different ways, particularly their civil liberties and rights. These technologies disproportionately and negatively impact Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. The City is working to create due processes and infrastructure to assess those public impacts to reduce risks and unintended consequences.  

BPS’s Smart City PDX program has been collaborating with the Office of Equity and Human Rights to develop privacy and information protection policies, strategies, and tools to help the City manage information and technology more responsibly, with a focus on improving people’s lives.  

Cover of Smart City PDX surveillance zine with text "Digital Justice Digital Rights & Surveillance Technologies"
Smart City PDX surveillance technologies zine

The surveillance policy includes the following requirements and goals: 

  • Create an inventory of surveillance technologies as well as reporting and oversight requirements.  

  • Create a process for procurement and use of surveillance technologies/information by City bureaus.  

  • Require privacy impact assessments for technology and information solutions used by City bureaus.  

  • Define an inclusive and effective governance structure for the use of surveillance technologies. 

Over the past two years, the City of Portland co-created its surveillance policy and guidelines through a series of workshops and events with community groups and partners. The policy will guide the City in the purchase and use surveillance technologies, including privacy impact assessments and effective public participation in governance and oversight.  

For a short, easy-to-understand version of the policy work, the Smart City PDX Zine is a helpful guide:

Testify on the draft policy  

Learn how to submit written or oral testimony on the Council event page.


In 2019, the City of Portland passed a set of privacy and information protection principles and a ban on the use of face recognition technologies, both of which risk intrinsic bias against people with dark skin color, elderly people, and women. 

A new policy will add a layer of transparency by creating a surveillance technologies inventory and developing privacy impact and risks assessments before the City buys and uses surveillance technologies. These actions will inform bureaus and City staff about proper use of technology and minimizing negative impacts in communities. 

Portland City Council heard about these issues in a work session on September 27:

Learn more about this surveillance technologies policy by visiting the project webpage.


Magan Reed

Communications Manager, Planning and Sustainability