Student Fellowship

Technology & Civil Liberties: Implementing San Diego’s Newly Adopted Privacy Ordinance

Project Area:

Government and Technology


San Diego, California

Reporting to:

Senior Policy Advisor

The Challenge

Balancing the use of technology for critical service delivery and the civil liberties of San Diego’s residents is a key mayoral priority. The city depends on data and technology to provide critical services, and a new Privacy Ordinance now governs this use. City government leaders believe that implementing the Privacy Ordinance will assist the city in making meaningful strides in delivering critical city services—from public safety to road improvements and environmental services—while also improving transparency and community trust. The impetus for the increased interest in privacy and civil liberties is tied to the City Council’s 2016 $30.3 million decision to upgrade city infrastructure with several thousand “smart streetlights.” The streetlights were equipped with sensors to help extract data on traffic, pedestrian flow, and environmental data. However, residents and civil liberties groups quickly raised concerns regarding the oversight and use of video footage that could be recorded on the lights. 

The establishment of a Privacy Advisory Board was among the first requirements under the new ordinance. This Board is in the process of being formed and will provide advice and technical assistance to the city on best practices to protect citizen privacy rights in connection with the purchase and use of surveillance equipment and other technology that collects or stores citizen data. The new ordinance includes a one-year grace period starting in August 2022, which is intended to give the city time to assemble the Board and allow city departments to survey which technologies they use. 

Prior to presenting a request for review to the Privacy Board, city staff will complete one or more community meetings in each city council district where the surveillance technology will be deployed. Departments will be asked to provide technology scope and use details, including: description of the technology - how it works, the manufacturer’s product description, its location in the city, some research on how this technology has been employed in other jurisdictions; description of the data acquired through use of the technology - the type of data gathered/analyzed, any rules in place for the use of that data, how the data is stored, and any associated performance measures; other documentation that will include - how the technology may impact resident rights and civil liberties, any resident concerns or complaints about the technology, the number of Public Record Act requests about the technology, any technology-associated trainings, and projected technology-related expenditures. The summer fellow will serve as a member of the mayor’s policy team to:

  • Support the review of documentation submissions and impact reports of existing equipment and technology utilization to identify themes, gaps, and priorities for further usage and purchases.
  • Help inform potential amendments to the ordinance and implementation plans. 
  • Assist with the review of surveillance technologies that may be exempted from the ordinance or fall under its purview and of training for departments so that when bringing new technologies online they can identify whether they need to go through this process. 
  • Assist with streamlining processes and templates for completing reporting required in the ordinance, including a process for acquiring grant funding, exigent circumstances, how to communicate information on technologies to the public, where to publicly post technologies, etc.

What You’ll Do

The fellow will engage several key stakeholders including the Mayor, Police Chief, Fire Chief, IT Department, Compliance Department, Privacy Advisory Board, and Councilmembers, along with the city’s privacy experts, the District Attorney’s office, and advocates such as the Trust SD coalition to inform ordinance implementation that balances civil liberties and the use of technology to ensure delivery of critical services. Key deliverables will include:

  1. Report on themes, gaps and priorities for further usage and purchases and proposed amendments to the ordinance and implementation plans.
  2. Presentation to the Mayor, City Council, and Privacy Advisory Board.

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:

  • Data analysis
  • Policy analysis
  • Writing and editing 
  • Stakeholder engagement and management

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