City of Portland releases draft Surveillance Technologies Inventory Specification

News Article
Members of the public are invited to provide feedback by April 30, 2024.

The Smart City PDX team and the Office of Equity and Human Rights held a series of public engagement events in 2023. From those events and the public survey on the surveillance technologies inventory, we collected public comments and feedback that helped shaped Portland’s surveillance technologies inventory.

Community events

Public participation is an important component in the development of the City of Portland’s surveillance technologies inventory. Our team kicked off this conversation with two virtual digital literacy and exploration events on June 7 and June 24 in 2023.

Our team also reached out to two community groups and organized in-person focus groups. The first event (in Spanish) on June 29 was in collaboration with Guerreras Latinas, an East Portland group serving immigrant and Latina families. The second event was in collaboration with The Miracles Club on June 30, engaging people experiencing house and food insecurity, recovering from drugs and addictions, or that have been recently incarcerated.

We received comments and concerns about how the City of Portland and private companies use surveillance technologies. People shared issues on transparency and accessing the information collected from those devices and what information we knew from them and their families.

Some people living on the streets shared how their lives are constantly exposed and even needing to use their own devices to protect themselves and record interactions with others.

These are some of the comments received in those in-person focus groups:

  • "What is the process to put a camera in public spaces?"
  • "I have children, I worry that they are watching when we go in/out."
  • "We need to have incentives for brown and black communities to improve future technology."
  • "In case someone has an accident and there is a camera that records it, can I have access to the video?"
  • "How are people vetted to monitor surveillance?"

Download all of the comments.

Public survey on surveillance technologies information

As a result of these public events, the Smart City PDX team compiled an initial list of information that became part of the City’s inventory data. The next step was to release a public survey requesting opinion on the relevance of this information. This survey also assessed how people feel about complex technology issues like surveillance.

Here there are some of the important findings that our team identified from the 2023 summer survey on surveillance technologies:

  • Low-income and BIPOC community members reported being less familiar with the government’s current use of surveillance technologies or their digital rights.
  • Approximately 3 out of every 4 low-income respondents reported not being aware of the government’s use of surveillance technologies, compared to 61% of high-income community members.
  • There was substantial similarity in survey responses among low-income, BIPOC, and non-expert (self-reported) subgroups.
  • Survey respondents have concerns about the privacy of their data.
  • Survey respondents consider it inequitable to transition to only utilizing technology to pay for parking (e.g. Parking Kitty).
  • There is a need for transparency regarding who has access to this data, for what purpose, and all information needs to be easily accessible to the public.

Examples of respondent feedback:

  • “Is the technology owned by the responsible organization, or leased from a contractor? Who operates the technology?”
  • “Procurement process and how many alternative vendors were considered. Was it just one, or did the city go through a proper RFP process?”
  • “City bureaus or offices/services using this technology and contact information of a representative who is familiar with the program.”

Download the results of the 2023 surveillance technologies inventory survey in these three files:

Surveillance inventory specification

The draft surveillance technologies inventory specification follows open data standards and it is intended to include metadata that will facilitate and inform future developments.

The specification is separated into five sections: General information, data, use, processing, and oversight of technologies.

The approach for the inventory is creating reference layers from overall technologies to specific devices. While keeping an inventory of all the thousands of devices that the city owns is impractical and expensive, our team decided to create an approach from general technologies to specific devices in public spaces. This approach can be useful to analyze big picture technologies and create a reference catalog for City bureaus and the public to refer to.

Specific uses of technologies will draw the next level of classification. Specific needs and context will require small adjustments or the creating of specific safeguards or risk mitigation strategies just for this application. At the same time, there will not be the need to perform a whole assessment, but just start with the existing one from the selected technology. This application layer will look at groups or clusters of devices and the public can find information needed depending on the specific use. 

The last level is the independent device. This layer can be expensive, but it can be useful for certain cases. These cases can include public interest, economic or the need to inform the community on specific devices in advance. Devices in public and visible spaces like light poles, side buildings, transit, or busy roads or intersections can be places where the community can be interested in learning more the surveillance technologies installed there.

Download the draft surveillance technologies inventory specification:

Provide feedback and comments about this draft specification by April 30, 2024:

  1. Complete our survey, or
  2. Send an email to Smart City PDX

After March 31, the Smart City PDX team will start reviewing comments, updating the draft specification, and reaching out to City Bureaus with an initial expected release date in early Fall 2024.