Ann Arbor Votes Down Video Privacy Law

A proposed new local law regulating the use of public surveillance cameras has been voted down by the Ann Arbor city council. The rejection of the proposal – co-sponsored by Ward 5 councilmembers Chuck Warpehoski and Mike Anglin – came on its initial vote, which was taken at the council’s July 1, 2013 meeting.

The new ordinance would have applied only to a limited range of cameras – those used by the city of Ann Arbor “to monitor human activity without the physical presence of an operator, including cameras on remotely operated aerial vehicles.”

The ordinance would not have applied to a range of city of Ann Arbor cameras, for example: cameras used to improve traffic design, security cameras operating in jails, prisons, water treatment facilities, public housing facilities, or the Ann Arbor Airport and other governmental facilities.

The new ordinance would have allowed for public surveillance cameras to be installed for 15 days or less at the discretion of the city administrator if the purpose were to address a specific criminal problem. But a period of longer than 15 days would have required two-thirds of nearby residents to give written permission. Regardless of the period of the installation, onsite notice of the camera’s presence was to have been required.

The council had voted several times previously to postpone consideration of the ordinance. The most recent postponement had come at the council’s June 17, 2013 meeting. The council seemed willing to postpone a vote on that occasion based on the fact that police chief John Seto was not available to answer questions about the impact on law enforcement activities. Some councilmembers indicated at that meeting a reluctance even to give the ordinance an initial approval. Ordinances require an initial approval followed by a second vote taken at a subsequent meeting, after a public hearing.

Councilmembers expressed concerns that the ordinance would impede law enforcement. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said that the goal of the ordinance could be achieved better through policy guidance from the council to the administration. Though she said she’d vote for the ordinance at first reading, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that she was not supportive of it – but for reasons different from those of other councilmembers. She felt that by providing a regulatory framework, the council was giving permission for surveillance.

The vote on July 1 among the nine councilmembers present was 5-4, which left the ordinance one vote short of the majority it needed to move to a second reading. Voting against the ordinance were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]