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ACLU to host panel discussion on surveillance

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

The N.C. branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is hosting a panel discussion Thursday evening on the state of surveillance by police agencies in the state.

The event is free and open to the public and takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, 234 North Sharon Amity Road.

Panelists include Sharon Bradford Franklin, who works for the Washington D.C.-based Constitution Project and focuses on government secrecy and individual privacy; Mark Newbold, an attorney for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department; and Sarah Preston, the policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina.

There has been increasing debate nationally and locally about American police departments’ increasing use of various electronic surveillance measures, especially ones initially developed for military purposes.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police recently told city council members they have access to more than 600 video cameras, and want to begin partnerships with Charlotte businesses that would extend the reach of the department’s camera network. The department also uses an electronic gunshot detection network to pinpoint gunfire in the center city and in the Grier Heights neighborhood in southeast Charlotte. And officers operate license plate readers to scan the tags of thousands of cars a day.

In March, American Civil Liberties Union chapters in 23 states, including North Carolina, filed public records requests asking police agencies to detail how they’re using drones and other devices principally used for military purposes overseas.

The ACLU made the requests to agencies across North Carolina, including police departments in Mecklenburg, Burke, Catawba, Gaston, Union and Cabarrus counties.

“We’re concerned about oversight,” Chris Brook, a legal director at the ACLU’s North Carolina chapter, told the Observer. “We’re concerned about public support and public input into its use. We’re concerned about whether it’s cost effective. And we have broader concerns when these sort of tactics come into play.”

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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