For LSA junior William Leaf, a year and half of tireless work may finally be coming to fruition.
Last September, Leaf founded the campus organization, Students Against Surveillance, with the intent to pass a city ordinance that would restrict the use of government surveillance cameras in public areas. The Ann Arbor City Democratic Party officially endorsed the ordinance on Saturday.
Leaf said if passed, the ordinance — which applies only to government-supervised cameras — would ban cameras from residential neighborhoods and outdoor parks in Ann Arbor. It would also limit the use of cameras in commercial areas so cameras are placed only in zones that fall within the city’s top 10th percentile of crime occurrences. Under the ordinance, the police would also be obligated to publish the locations of all the cameras on the Ann Arbor police website.
Mary Hall-Thiam, vice chair for outreach and inclusion for The Ann Arbor City Democratic Party, said the group issued a statement saying though the proposal isn’t “perfect,” it supports the idea behind the project.
“(I thought) that at Ann Arbor Dems, we needed to be at the forefront of a progressive idea, and that was the reason why we decided to support (Leaf) and move this along,” Hall-Thiam said.
While the Ann Arbor Democrats have officially endorsed the ordinance, Cleveland Chandler, the chair of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party, said a conversation about the surveillance ordinance is on the agenda for his group’s next meeting on Feb. 15.
“We’ve discussed it, but we haven’t endorsed it yet,” he said.
Leaf said the club also has to wait for the city attorney to finish evaluating the ordinance and for the Ann Arbor City Council to vote on it before the ordinance could become a law. The city council process could take a while to complete, he explained.
“We’re going to have to talk to every city council person first to see where they’re at and see what they feel about it, and then we have to get a sponsor on City Council, and they present it in the first hearing, and then two weeks later they vote on it,” Leaf said.
City Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) said she thinks it will be difficult for Leaf to get a City Council member to bring the ordinance before council. Though she agrees with the idea behind the proposed ordinance, Briere said she thinks the wording of the proposal and bringing it up before City Council will make members choose to implement cameras in areas they wouldn’t otherwise.
“Personally, I don’t want surveillance cameras anywhere in Ann Arbor, and I worry that opening a door to an ordinance of this nature would allow surveillance cameras,” Briere said.
The main challenge the group has faced, Leaf said, has been getting people interested in the topic because it is not heavily publicized or controversial.
“The idea that there’s no privacy in public has just kind of been accepted by people and not really thought about,” he said. “We’re just really trying to change people’s basic ideas about the subject and get people interested.”
He explained that American deserve privacy in public and all aspects of daily and recreational life.
“It’s really important to say that our public spaces aren’t just the Times Square,” he said. “Public spaces are also every park, every beach and every residential neighborhood. And to just give up all privacy in all these places would make our lives worse.”
Leaf, who grew up in Ann Arbor, said his passion about privacy comes from his dedication to protecting the environment.
“To me, there’s no such thing as wilderness when every area in an entire city is under surveillance all the time,” he said.
Leaf attended Pioneer High School, which began using surveillance cameras while Leaf was a senior there. He said that was the first time he voiced his opposition to the cameras, and it has since been an ongoing battle.
“For me, the biggest thing is just being able to walk around the city I live in without being under constant surveillance,” he said. “And constant surveillance isn’t in some science fiction realm, its already happening.”
– Daily News Editor Caitlin Huston contributed to this report.