Last year we were stunned (well, only partially) to find out law enforcement officers had collected license plate information of attendees at a gun show in Del Mar, California, then forwarded that information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, purportedly to attempt to catch gun smugglers heading to Mexico.

The Wall Street Journal reported about the 2010 incident, which was discussed in emails the newspaper obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Other potential operations were discussed, but ICE denied that any other California gun shows were targeted.

But the incident raises a good question. How often are you watched by the government?

California State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) wants people to have more information about the ways in which local law enforcement monitors them. His Senate Bill 21 would require law enforcement agencies to disclose the types of surveillance technologies they use and how they are used.

Under the bill, law enforcement agencies would be required to create a Surveillance Use Policy by July 1, 2018 listing: 

  • Types of surveillance technology used

  • Authorized purpose for use of the technology

  • Types of data that can be and is collected

  • Job titles of employees who are authorized to use the technology or access the data gathered

  • Training requirements for those employees

  • Description of how the technology will be used

  • How long the data will be stored

  • How the technology will be monitored to ensure that privacy laws are followed

  • Procedures for sharing the data, if any, and whether criminal defendants would have access to the data

 Law enforcement agencies would be required to obtain approval of their Surveillance Use Policy by their governing body, at that body’s regularly scheduled meeting. Any future surveillance technology purchases would need the prior permission of the governing body, and the Surveillance Use Policy would need to be updated each time a new technology was implemented.

In addition, law enforcement agencies would be required to create disciplinary policies to punish employees who access the data “in a manner that is prohibited by the approved surveillance use policy.”

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, there are critics on both sides of the bill. A representative from the California State Sheriff’s Association said he was concerned that criminals would end up with “a roadmap of how they are surveiled,” and other law enforcement people were afraid that new technologies couldn’t be implemented quickly, if necessary, in an ongoing investigation. A representative from the ACLU, however, wondered if “there going to be real oversight and real enforcement?”

Requiring more transparency from law enforcement, especially regarding ways in which we are being watched, is a positive step forward. Requiring them to go through the bureaucratic process of creating their Surveillance Use Policy, to get permission each time they want a new toy, and to amend their policy each time they add something to their arsenal might give them a greater appreciation for what law-abiding gun owners must go through each time they buy a new gun.