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State bill requiring California police to disclose surveillance equipment stalls in fiscal committee

Surveillance equipment, "Stingray II." (AP)
Surveillance equipment, "Stingray II." (AP)

A bill that would have required law enforcement agencies in California to disclose all of their surveillance equipment to the public stalled on Friday in the state Assembly Appropriations Committee amid its high costs.

Under the legislation by state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), police and sheriff's departments would have had to submit a plan to local officials — and present it at an open hearing — on what surveillance technology they employ and how, including facial recognition software, drones and social media monitors.

If a law enforcement agency had not adopted a policy by a July 2018 deadline, it would have had to stop its use of the technology within 30 days.

The bill required law enforcement agencies to generate public reports on the use of their gear every two years. The state Department of Justice and state Highway Patrol also would have had to comply with similar guidelines.

The fiscal committee found the state Justice Department would have faced significant costs to hire more people and would see an increase in workload to assist with online investigations, data collection and reporting surveillance use policies throughout the state.

Law enforcement agencies would also feel the burden. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office alone calculated the need for 10 positions and $600,000 to comply with the bill's provisions, the committee found. 

The bill was predicated on two laws that went into effect last year. One of those requires agencies to draft and publicly post privacy and usage policies for devices often called “Stingrays” or “Dirtboxes,” which simulate cellphone towers and cast a broad dragnet over communications.

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