They Are Watching. Are You?

In early 2013, visitors to Alki beach in Seattle were surprised by a new neighbor. It was in the public park across the street where many people enjoy sunset views of Puget Sound.  There, the city installed a network of wireless cameras to give it 24-hour access to a video feed that covered the Port of Seattle, the beach, the park, the street, and nearby residents’ homes. The $5 million network was capable of recording activities in so many places due to its almost 360-degree pan and zoom capabilities, which police officers and other public officials could manipulate remotely in real time.

While residents were concerned about the intrusive capabilities of the newly installed surveillance network, they were equally upset about something that it lacked: adequate public notification and engagement. An Alki resident testified before the Seattle City Council after the discovery of the system that “what bothers the community is that this was never brought to our attention, never discussed. We’re concerned about living in a police state. These cameras can potentially look right into our houses — right into my living room.” 

Encouraged by millions of dollars in federal grants, local law enforcement agencies across the country are acquiring surveillance technologies at an alarmingly rapid rate. As more and more invasive technologies are created for the military and intelligence agencies, they trickle down to our increasingly militarized police forces. Often, local lawmakers and the public are not familiar with these systems and their dangers to civil liberties, and so public policy in response to surveillance lags behind.

New surveillance technologies and the problems associated with them are complex and have a cost to our privacy and security as well as to public budgets. Federal grants to local police departments come with strings attached: data sharing agreements, joint missions, and a shift from local priorities to federal ones. Without privacy protections, clearly defined operating procedures, enforcement provisions, and audits, communities should rightly fear that government will use these systems in ways that infringe upon their civil liberties, now or in the future.

To help communities and lawmakers who represent them make more informed decisions about the adoption of surveillance technology, the ACLU of Washington has launched a new website, “They Are Watching.” It provides information on many commonly acquired systems and the civil liberties concerns they present. It also offers a series of recommendations to help communities question the need for such equipment and to craft policies and procedures that protect civil liberties. Finally, it provides a downloadable model ordinance designed to ensure that the public has a chance to evaluate proposals for new systems before they are acquired and that policies for their use to protect civil liberties are put in place.

After intense outcry from community activists and organizations including the ACLU, the Seattle Police Department deactivated the camera network in Alki. Police pledged to keep the cameras turned off until the city council approves a set of operating policies and privacy protections. Furthermore, the city adopted an ordinance that requires council approval before the police department acquires or alters the use of surveillance systems. While the ordinance is weaker than we would like, their efforts are a step in the right direction. But there is much more work to be done at the federal, state, and local levels to assure that communities are not surprised by the arrival of new invasive technologies and their impacts on civil liberties.

Communities should not have to fight for privacy protections after surveillance systems are installed. We hope that our new website will provide communities and policy-makers with the information they need to consider the merits of these technologies and, if they choose to deploy them, to create policies necessary to protect civil liberties. 

They are watching. You should be, too.

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The greatest danger the ACLU should focus on is "blacklisting", specifically employment tampering. Similar to the CoinTelPro tactics that were outlawed in the 1970's by Congress - the goal is to disrupt, punish and destroy Americans that exercise their First Amendment rights.

How it works: sometimes using the federal "Material Witness Statute" (well documented abuses under John Ashcroft) homeland security task forces composed of local, state and federal secret police literally defame or slander citizens exercising their constitutional rights.

If a law abiding citizen applies for a job or a small business has a new customer - these task forces either defame the citizen altogether, sometimes using the local sheriff, to completely destroy that revenue stream or they infiltrate the company to torment the law abiding citizen or sabotage their work.

Since these cowardly and unconstitutional acts usually lack "confrontation", the law abiding citizen can't obtain legal standing for review by a judge. There are no real watchdogs outside of judges.

In financial terms it means a 65% to 90% pay-cut over several years plus it destroys the citizen's job history as well (so the damage continues even if they cease their cowardly program). Pay-cuts that severe results in the law abiding citizen losing their home, marriage, family and dignity.

The only way to fix this evil program is to mandate "confrontation" and for a judge to issue restraining orders against these task forces. Since the damage can't be reversed an official government apology and punitive damages are required as well.

Keep in mind many of these torture victims aren't aware they have been blacklisted, many don't why their employment was destroyed for their non-crimes and non-wrongdoing.

This should be the ACLU's top priority. It's essentially the invisible war crime. Even Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn't aware it was happening to him during CoinTelPro. Blacklisted citizens today that are non-celebrities don't have a chance and need the ACLU's help. This is maybe the biggest war crime today.


This is so true I am now on a job blacklist with no relief in sight for 7 years now!


Very succinct summary of the issue, it is much appreciated and I've dealt with the same problems although I don't agree or disagree with what you state is the source of the targeting as I don't have enough evidence to make that connection.


I'm confused. I've acquired a very strong committment to learning civil liberties protection laws and using them to defend thus rights, as well as larger political awareness of abuse in unbelievably immoral power misuses by gov agencies / departments of enforcement of citizens on many platforms. I'm a victem and fear that my battle may be the death of me, as the misfortune of stacked deck strategies used simultaneously to exhaust my capabilities defending against in effective greed , spite , and small town South Carolina having Incestrous intertwined departmental contact with designed to participate only for mutual appealing outcome without the procedures or legitimate legally correct civility in checks -balances, or actually using the constitution as the outline to which all efforts are built around principly. I'm asking for any insightful advice to which communities are allowed such awareness in the surveillance / civilian Right and Liberty can be asserted pubilicly in open and honest achievement ? I can't get the competence of the statues in civil or criminal conduct of court actions. In my own case, i haven't been given a reason for the Tpr in my unfounded Dss persistence in achieving a founded case merit ordered after the 3 time attempts that initially only were involved because of my first child's father failing a measured addiction risk assessment both clinically and urine tested .. I was successfully asseed without risk and passed toxicology , so until he complied with a plan of behavioral treatment and conditions set up to reduce the drug abuse to non risk in Dss statue and my custodial status was not to allow his appearance around her until cooperation . Not Bc of my own default were they involved and the role taken by suddenly by new employee agent that took attention to case , and took it too far. I was harassed , stalked, degraded, threatened continuously , showing at my apartment in middle of night banging erradictly while I frantically hid in silence with daughter for fear of suggestive activity uncomfortably dreaded in obsessive attacking naive and young and vulnerable , attractive ( especially according to him) young 19yr old. After his final and progressive attempt in sexual intimacy questioning me at my apartment alone after the degrading comments of the sexy exceptionable assets to achieving anything , bragging that I was different than other cases, I was model attractive and not addicted to crack and stripping , waist at Waffle House choice of career, stating the level of anything that the mothers in cases will go .. Leading a sexually explicit line of questions of disturbing perverse manner. I was effectively told he was fired and apologized after patents called raging. In the sick abusive Dss relations , they didn't dispose of cases true detail , stating only an incident that reflected bad reputation so the biased and malicious betrayal is via the record . I have if plz repky


all muslims and mosques MUST BE WATCHED. And stop building more !!!
Not understanding this, is simply... MORONIC.


In Virginia, executive branch officials have obstructed justice (felony crime) in preventing me from filing a petition in federal court (Judicial Branch) to challenge Virginia's blacklisting program modeled after the East German Stasi. Not sure if the executive branch officials are local, state or federal or a task force of some kind in this unAmerican practice.
This blatant violation of my Bill of Rights has included regular word documents not voluntarily connected to the internet. It has happened routinely over nearly 15 years so it not coincidental.

This is the definition of un-American tyranny! Judges and justices should be appalled at this trespassing on judicial jurisdiction.


I am currently under surveillance for trying to gain employment. Vocational Rehabilitation was an major influence in this awful operation. I agree ACLU need to focus on blacklisting and surveillance tactics.


I live above Alki, in West Seattle. These cameras are not active, never have been, because of community outcry. So try again...this article is not being clear with everyone. No one is "watching" on Alki


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