Official websites use

A website belongs to an official government organization in the City of Boston.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock or https:// means you've safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Last updated:

Boston's Use of Surveillance Technology

Technology underpins everything that the City does. Clear surveillance policies can improve core services, protect Boston residents’ privacy, and advance civil rights, civil liberties, and racial and immigrant justice.

What is surveillance?

We’ve probably all had the experience of walking down a street, noticing a camera on a light pole overhead, and wondering what exactly it’s doing there. This is a natural response to the reality of being surveilled.

Surveillance is the process of conducting close observations of an individual or group. Surveillance technologies are tools used to observe individuals or groups throughout Boston.

In practice, the City uses many different surveillance technologies: devices, hardware, or software that can collect many types of information and data about people and groups. When used thoughtfully, these tools make it easier to enhance public safety, improve City services, and protect privacy & civil rights. Effective policies to guide how these tools are used is a key step to ensure these technologies are used appropriately and effectively without compromising the civil rights, privacy, or dignity of our residents.


Boston's Surveillance Oversight Ordinance

In 2021, the Boston City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to build transparency and accountability into the City’s use of surveillance technology and data. This ordinance created an ongoing public process to document and review how City departments use surveillance technology. Click the button below to read the actual text of the ordinance or continue down this page for a high-level summary.

Read the Ordinance

What's In The Ordinance?

  1. Publicly Available Policies Describing how Surveillance Technology Should be Used

    The ordinance requires the publication and regular updating of policies that describe how each department uses specific surveillance technologies (that’s why this webpage was created!). You can read the current versions of these policies in the next section.
  2. Annual Reporting on How Surveillance Technologies are Actually Used

    The ordinance requires departments to annually report how they used surveillance technologies in the previous year. This information is reviewed by the Mayor and shared with the City Council. The City Council can then decide if how departments are using surveillance technology needs to change. The City Council is tasked with publishing a report of their review by May 31 every year, beginning in 2024. You can read more about this year’s annual reporting further down this webpage.
  3. Surveillance Oversight Advisory Board

    The ordinance created a five-person Advisory Board to help advise the Mayor on surveillance issues and engage the community in further discussion on this topic. The five people on the board are:
    • A City Councilor chosen by the president of the City Council
    • A representative of the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union
    • A representative of the Boston Police Commissioner
    • Two representatives chosen by the Mayor, including at least one academic expert
  4. Surveillance, Data, and Privacy Working Group

    Finally, the ordinance created a short-term working group that met to identify and prioritize opportunities to increase transparency, accountability, and engagement around surveillance technology with the public that are not covered by the ordinance. The Working Group recommended the Mayor and City Council to:
    • Form a Privacy Advisory Committee to support City employees across departments and communicate with residents and community organizations
    • Offering clear and relevant training on privacy principles to City employees, starting in the employee onboarding stage and continuing through their tenure
    • Partner with trusted community-based organizations for ongoing listening sessions, event planning, and community-led engagement around City surveillance and data collection practices

Annual Surveillance Reports

The annual reporting process for 2024 is not yet complete. This page will be updated as soon as it is.

What’s next?

We’re excited for the opportunity to center our residents and our communities as we shape the future of the City’s use of surveillance technology.

We encourage you to read through the policies, attend hearings held by the Council concerning the policies that matter to you, make your voice heard to your City Councilor, and stay engaged throughout the process.

We look forward to hearing from you!


Back to top