Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

Citing increased concerns over digital security, the City Council has approved new rules for submitting electronic presentations by instating a 12 p.m. deadline to give the City Clerk time to screen digital files for viruses the day of a meeting. Before the March 27 meeting when the Council approved the deadline, there was no established procedure to review media files like PowerPoint presentations, videos, audio, images and PDFs before public comments.

“The concern about…viruses on digital media is very well founded,” Council member Kevin McKeown said during the meeting. “In fact, I think we’ve been kind of reckless letting people just plug into the computer over here which is hooked up to the city network.”

USB drives, which have been used to upload last minute presentations at City Hall, can be loaded with sophisticated malware and viruses. In fact, thumb drives have been used to penetrate some of the world’s most secure networks, including the Department of Defense itself, according to the digital security firm CyberScout.

While the computer in Council chambers can screen files for viruses, its connection to the network poses a security threat to City Hall and staff members, according to a recent report by City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren. Anderson-Warren had initially requested an additional 24 hours to screen and upload digital files, however, members of the public complained it did not give them enough time to respond to lengthy staff reports, which are posted 72 hours before a public meeting.

“Often someone won’t even be clear if they can attend a council meeting to make a presentation until the day before or the day of,” former mayor Michael Feinstein wrote to the City Council. The Council decided to move the deadline to Tuesday in order to give the public an extra full business day to draft presentations.

The new deadline will not apply to members of boards and commissions addressing the City Council on behalf of their public agency. The public will still have access to an overhead projector to display physical sheets of paper they bring with them to a meeting. The clerk says the digital files will not be screened for content.

The number of digital files submitted for use during the public comment period varies greatly from meeting to meeting. In addition to the virus scan, the clerk says the new deadline will help her prepare presentation materials to reduce delays and disruptions during the meeting. The public can still submit digital materials for “14 Items” which is the only opportunity to publicly address the Council about issues that are not on the agenda.

The president of Mid-City Neighbors and frequent commentator Andrew Hoyer said he was happy the Clerk would be organizing the files before the meeting.

“The system here can be a little wonky,” Hoyer said.

The new rules will go into effect starting April 10 (next week’s City Council meeting). Files should be emailed to the City Clerk’s Office at clerk@smgov.net and include the meeting date, agenda item number and the name of the public speaker, who must be present to participate.

kate@www.smdp.com

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press