Carnegie Mellon University
December 03, 2014

Carnegie Mellon Students To Present Surveillance Policy Recommendations to Pittsburgh City Council

By Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094

From drones to traffic cameras to body cameras, technology is giving law enforcement officials many new options to watch and protect citizens. However, their use raises legal and ethical questions, including potentially violating the privacy rights of innocent people.

To explore how the City of Pittsburgh should balance using surveillance tools to enhance public safety with minimizing the risk of infringing on people's privacy, Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Gilman invited Carnegie Mellon University students majoring in Ethics, History and Public Policy (EHPP) to provide analysis and recommendations. They will present their findings at a special session of City Council.

The project became part of this year's EHPP senior capstone course after Jay D. Aronson, associate professor of history, approached Gilman, a CMU alumnus with a degree in EHPP, to find out about how Pittsburgh was protecting civil liberties as it was developing its surveillance infrastructure and considering new technologies like body-worn cameras for police officers, red light cameras, Shot Spotter (a gunshot detection and location service) and drones. Gilman said that Pittsburgh had a strong privacy policy, but he wanted to know more about how other cities were dealing with these issues. He also wanted to know what the city could learn from positive and negative experiences around the country.

Aronson said he was initially drawn to this topic through student feedback from a course he taught last year on drone warfare.  

"My students were interested not only in how drones were being used in armed conflict, but also how they were being deployed by the government to protect our borders and, increasingly, by local police forces to maintain order in major American cities. They were especially concerned that as surveillance technologies become more pervasive and permanent, they might curtail democratic activities taking place in the public sphere, such as protests, marches and demonstrations," he said.

While he knew little about this issue beyond what he had read in the newspaper and a policy brief issued by the American Civil Liberties Union, Aronson was convinced that this was a great topic for the capstone course, in which EHPP seniors are required to put the historical knowledge, moral reasoning skills and policy analysis techniques they learn in the major to work on a current policy issue.

The students participating in the presentation to City Council are Marie Avilez, Catherine Ciriello, Chistophe Combemale, Latif Elam, Michelle Kung, Emily LaRosa, Cameron Low, Madison Nagle, Colin Shaffer and Rachel Ratzlaff Shriver.

CMU's EHPP major prepares students for leadership positions in law, public policy, ethics, and advocacy by providing them with a rigorous, interdisciplinary humanistic and social-scientific education.  Directed by Aronson, it is jointly administered by the Department of History and the Department of Philosophy in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

When: 1:30 - 3 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 10

Where: Pittsburgh City Council Chambers, Fifth Floor, City-County Building, 414 Grant Street