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ACLU Says King County Data Collection Plan Could Curb Civil Liberties

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The American Civil Liberties Union says a proposed new data collection system in the King County Sheriff’s Office could cause people to be unfairly tracked by law enforcement. The ACLU says the county needs to be more transparent on exactly what the Mark43 records management system would do.King County Sheriff John Urquhart told the King County Council Wednesday that the Mark43 system is not a major change for the department.

”This is a basic vanilla reporting system for cops,” he said. 

But the ACLU’s Shankar Narayan begs to differ. He says the new system has much more powerful ways of analyzing and combining databases. For example,  the company touts its feature that tracks people who might be gang members.

“And that is very problematic because we don’t know the basis on which the tool might be basing its decisions,” Narayan said.

He says if it’s based on what someone is wearing, it could result in people being wrongly identified as a member of a gang.

The sheriff insists he has no plans to use the “gang feature” of the system.

Still, the ACLU and some King County Council members remain skeptical. The ACLU’s Narayan says one concern is that vendors like Mark43 don't disclose certain information because they consider it proprietary and that can make it difficult to know exactly what the system is capable of.

He says beyond that, it's important for governments to look at the big picture when adopting new technology.

“You have to be able to articulate the problem you want this technology to solve, how is this technology actually going to work to do that, and how should it be deployed to avoid the unintended consequences," Narayan said.

If the county does decide to fund the Mark43 records management system it would be for a one-year pilot project.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.