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Seattle skyline and Rainier at sunsetThe City of Seattle is moving forward with its commitment to help citizens understand how it uses their personal data both internally and with outside third-party organizations.

Representatives from the city’s technology arm today unveiled a new privacy program at a City Council meeting that aims to increase transparency into the City’s data collection and use practices, with a goal of being better prepared to leverage new technologies that involve the collection of data — from utility meter information to body-worn police camera recordings. 

The over-arching purpose of the initiative is to help the City establish a set of standards that it can apply to any new technologies that have potential privacy implications. It’s designed to help avoid situations like when the Seattle Police Department had to pull the plug on a controversial unmanned aerial vehicle program in 2013.

Photo via Shutterstock.
Photo via Shutterstock.

Work on the program originally began more than a year ago, when councilmembers and Mayor Ed Murray asked the city to develop better ways to communicate the city’s privacy procedures with citizens, particularly as new controversial technologies like the police drones were being rolled out.

Since then, the city organized an interdepartmental team made up of representatives from different city sectors — police, fire, transportation, library, law, IT, light — that helped craft the initiative principles and a privacy statement. It also convened an external Privacy Advisory Committee made up of local researchers, practitioners, and community representatives — including those from Microsoft and the University of Washington — to help provide guidance.

The two committees also helped put together an internal “privacy toolkit” to help educate the city’s departments on privacy practices and compliance.

Ginger Armbruster, the city’s privacy program manager, outlined five “desired outcomes” of the initiative at today’s council meeting:

  • Public understands how the City will use their data and trusts the City will honor their commitments.
  • Departments know what data they possess, classified it and protected it appropriately, and know their commitments.
  • Departments use data in accordance with their commitments.
  • Departments follow the appropriate retention schedule.
  • Departments share data with third parties in accordance with commitments and the City’s principles.

Here are the city’s “privacy principles” (click to enlarge):

seattleprivacyprinciples

The program is still a work-in-progress and Armbruster noted that today marks a “soft-launch.”

“We will be refining and getting this program into compliance by the end of 2017,” she noted.

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