Sawant Calls for Removal of Secret FBI Cameras in Seattle

A surveillance camera at 4th and Cherry. Photo via Seattle City Council.

This afternoon Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is calling for the removal of federal surveillance cameras around the city. The cameras have been around since at least 2015, according to the Seattle Times, and last week a federal judge ruled that their surveillance footage and other information may be kept secret because it helps with law enforcement.

“It is totally unacceptable for the City of Seattle to be complicit in federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies surveilling Seattle’s public spaces,” Sawant said in a press release. “As a sanctuary city we should not be filming our general population, and we certainly should not be sending that data to law enforcement agencies now being run by the Trump administration.” Sawant says that she does not have any specific legislation yet, but wants to expand Seattle’s existing surveillance regulations so that city council has to approve every camera rather than leaving that responsibility to unelected city staff.

As we reported last week, it is not unheard of for federal and local police to surveil political activists under the guise of impartial law enforcement. Sawant says that through news reports, her staff have identified nine cameras operated by the FBI and about twenty operated by other federal agencies.

In an interview, Sawant said she’s worried about the precedent these cameras will set for Seattle and other cities. “It’s not just about technological equipment,” she said. “It’s about normalizing a Big Brother mentality.” This is especially true under the Trump administration, she said, and especially true for undocumented immigrants.

This afternoon’s council meeting begins at 2 p.m. You can watch live here.

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