Podcast | The gray areas of surveillance tech in WA police forces

Federal relief funds are financing new surveillance technology across the state. Reporter Brandon Block discusses why privacy advocates are concerned.

An automated license plate reader rests on top of a street sign

An automated license-plate reader, which collects tens of thousands of images of plates a day, seen during a tour of downtown Seattle with an ACLU representative on Friday, July 7, 2023. (Grant Hindsley for Crosscut)


If you walk around downtown Seattle and look closely, you may notice that you’re being watched. From traffic cameras to automated license-plate readers, surveillance technology is all around us. And thanks to new funding from the American Rescue Plan, many cities across Washington and the country are buying even more technologies that can collect personal data.

As Crosscut reporter Brandon Block discovered, the laws that govern this kind of technology are limited, and vary from city to city.

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Police and other city departments say these new devices and software will help them do their jobs far more effectively. But privacy advocates say they allow government agencies to track innocent people, with little regulation or transparency around how sensitive data is being used or shared. 

For this episode of Crosscut Reports, host Sara Bernard talks with Block about his tour of existing surveillance technology in downtown Seattle; what kinds of surveillance federal funds are now making possible in police departments around the state; and the potential ramifications of all of this.

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