Organizer Marvin Arnold speaks at a Oct. 7 rally organized by Eye on Surveillance, urging the City Council to adopt new surveillance restrictions. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

An ordinance that would put restrictions on the city’s surveillance capabilities, which was expected to go to a City Council vote this week, has been deferred once again, according to a spokesman for Councilman Jason Williams, who is sponsoring the ordinance.

Last week, advocacy group Eye on Surveillance held a rally outside City Hall to encourage the council to pass the ordinance, which had seen no forward progress since it was first discussed by the council in July. At last week’s rally, organizers said that they expected the ordinance to go to a vote at the Oct. 15 council meeting. That was confirmed by Williams’ chief of staff Keith Lampkin.

But on Monday, Lampkin told The Lens that they will have to defer the ordinance again, and that he expects it to be considered at the next full City Council meeting on Nov. 5, two days after the presidential general election and Louisiana primary elections. Williams’ will appear on that ballot in his run for Orleans Parish District Attorney. 

Lamkin said that the main issue was that they weren’t able to sit down and get the thumbs-up from Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration.

“We just weren’t able to get back with the administration on the most recent update that we have,” Lamkin said. 

He said that the final version of the newest draft of the ordinance wasn’t completed until Tuesday. He said there were a number of big city issues last week that kept the administration and council members busy, including Hurricane Delta, new furloughs for city employees and federal court hearings on the Phase III expansion of the city’s jail. That left little time to sit down with administration officials to get their input on the new draft. 

“For a number of reasons, we were not able to get back together as we committed to on the front end,” Lampkin said. 

As The Lens reported last week, the latest version of the ordinance is much less ambitious than the original version that was introduced in July.

The original ordinance would have created an entirely new regulatory regime for surveillance technology. Under those rules, city departments would have to apply with the City Council for approval to use new surveillance equipment, including all equipment currently in use. Approvals would be valid for three years, at which time departments would have to reapply.

The original ordinance also would have forced city departments to write annual reports on their use of surveillance, including “the demographics of the surveillance technology targets, including but not limited to race or ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status.”

All of that was removed for the newest draft of the ordinance. The new version also lacks an original blanket ban on automated license plate readers. 

What remains from the original version are bans on three specific pieces of surveillance technology: facial recognition, characteristic recognition and “stingray” cell-site simulators that law enforcement have used to gather data from people’s cell phones. The new version also adds one new ban on predictive policing software.

Eye on Surveillance remains supportive of the ordinance. Renard Bridgewater, an organizer with the group, said that Eye on Surveillance is still planning a rally in support of the ordinance on Tuesday Oct. 13 outside of the city’s surveillance hub, the Real Time Crime Center, which is located next to the NOPD’s 1st District on North Rampart Street.

“We’re pretty much all hands on deck, continuing to engage the community and educate them about this ordinance as well as the continued harm that surveillance is causing in our community,” Bridgewater said. 

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...