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It's Not Easy to Control Police Use of Tech—Even With a Law

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Oakland police officers armed with many types of technology.

Most cities give police broad latitude to use surveillance technologies during exigent circumstances. The authors of a white paper say this can create loopholes in citizen oversight.

Credit: Getty Images

In 2018, Oakland, CA, enacted an innovative law giving citizens a voice in police use of surveillance technology. The Electronic Frontier Foundation called it "the new gold standard in community control of police surveillance." Since then, about 20 other cities have adopted similar laws.

Now, Brian Hofer, one of the architects of Oakland's law, says it's not working. Earlier this month, Hofer filed suit against the city and the police department, saying they had repeatedly violated the law.

"We ignored human nature," Hofer says in an interview. "Police don't like to be transparent. Surveillance technology use is by design secretive, and no self-interested party is going to voluntarily highlight anything negative about their own proposal." A spokesperson for the Oakland Police Department says it doesn't comment on ongoing legal matters.

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