(TNS) — The Bay Area Rapid Transit’s Board of Directors approved a far-reaching surveillance measure Thursday that requires public hearings every time the agency purchases or seeks funding for new spy technology.

It comes as BART reels from a recent string of violent crimes that prompted its general manager, Grace Crunican, to propose systemwide upgrades to the rail line’s security cameras — and even led some board members to float ideas about facial recognition software.

But the new regulation bans testing of facial recognition software. It also requires BART to gather feedback from the public whenever officials want to expand the system’s security apparatus.

“I think there is always what I hope is a healthy tension between privacy and the need to promote public safety,” said Brian Hofer, chairman of the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission. He worked for two years with other advocates to draft BART’s privacy policy, which the board adopted as a binding ordinance.

The process began in April 2016, after news reports of a license plate reader that BART police had installed in the MacArthur parking garage. When activists showed up to a board meeting to protest the equipment, the board voted not to use it until BART had written and approved a privacy policy.

Although the board ordered BART police to turn the cameras off, they apparently were left on. BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas told reporters that his staff “had no idea” the system was up and running. Activists said at the board meeting Thursday that the cameras sent 57,000 license plate scans to a database that could be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Rojas said he had “no information that any data was shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or ICE.”

The new ordinance allows a 60-day testing period for new surveillance equipment before it goes before board. Crunican had asked for a slightly longer period of 90 days, saying that “every piece of technology sucks when you first get it.”

Though several board directors urged their colleagues to adopt the privacy rules as a policy rather than a binding ordinance, the majority of the body said BART has a duty to protect the civil liberties of its riders.

San Francisco Board Director Bevan Dufty called the new law “an act of contrition.”

“We are living in a time of lack of trust in government institutions,” he said.

©2018 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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