Friday, November 24, 2017
Editorials

Pushing back on Tampa surveillance cameras

RECOMMENDED READING


The Tampa City Council acted in the public interest Thursday by pushing back on Mayor Bob Buckhorn's open-ended plan to operate surveillance cameras in downtown Tampa. It was an overdue defense of privacy rights and the first serious test of this council's willingness to take on a popular mayor. The city has not made a practical or constitutional case for spying on the general public, and the council has a role in balancing the city's treatment of privacy and public safety.

Council members directed their attorney to meet with the administration to craft some restrictions on where and how the cameras are used. The talks set the stage for a legal clash over the council's legislative function and the broad powers Buckhorn enjoys under Tampa's strong-mayor form of government. Under the charter, the council can flex its muscle through its budgetmaking authority, but it cannot micromanage the mayor — or in this case, the police chief. Both have said they intend to keep the cameras, which the city bought with federal money for this summer's Republican National Convention.

But this is a political issue, not a narrow legal one, and council members properly aired their concerns for two hours Thursday. They wondered whether roughly 100 cameras are overkill, whether they prevent crime or move it, and whether the police are disciplined enough not to abuse the technology. They pivoted from a debate over how to restrict the cameras' use into a larger discussion over whether they are appropriate, effective or even desirable. In so doing, they raised the central question: What sort of city do the cameras create, and shouldn't the public have a say on the matter?

The council is in an uphill fight, and it's not even clear that most members have the stomach to wage much beyond a face-saving battle. That ultimately could come down to creating a do-nothing ordinance or oversight committee that gives council members cover — and a free hand to the police. But the issue is not whether the council should trust these cameras, this mayor and this chief. What about the next administration, and the next generation of cameras and surveillance software? Allowing routine surveillance now across the breadth of downtown sets a new floor for invading a person's privacy. And these machines will only get better at isolating people and subjecting them to random government searches.

The council should have forced this discussion before it approved buying the cameras earlier this year. But the mayor's staff — citing the RNC — insisted that time was of the essence and that they would come back later to weigh any privacy concerns. The time for that conversation is now — whether the council can modify the plan or not. The public deserves to know more relevant information: the capabilities of these devices, the intended uses of the video, the protocols for sharing images with other law enforcement agencies, and so on. The issue is not the separation of powers between the council and the mayor but the obligation both have to be accountable for their decisions, particularly the far-reaching ones.

Comments

Another voice: Wall isnít a lifesaver, itís a boondoggle

The first stage of President Donald Trumpís controversial border wall project ended last week, while the prospects for any more construction ó and even what type of wall ó remain uncertain.A Border Patrol agent was killed and his partner seriously wo...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nationís budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more ó s...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nationís highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: Trump does the right thing for elephants; he shouldnít back down now

There is bad timing, and then there is this. Last week, an apparent military coup placed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in custody, ushering in a new period of political uncertainty. A few days later, the Trump administration announced that Zimba...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/22/17
Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

From birth to death, opioid addiction is ravaging the lives of thousands of Floridians. Drugmakers, doctors, state lawmakers and insurance companies all have a role to play in slowing the epidemic. Lately some more responsible answers, including mill...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/21/17

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "Iím pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: A time for real thanksgiving

Editorial: A time for real thanksgiving

By now the guest list if not the table is all set, and the house will be warmed with the noise of loved ones and the smell of that dish with cream of mushroom soup. Tucked between the sugar rush of Halloween and the sparkle of Christmas, Thanksgiving...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/22/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17