San Francisco lawmakers are mulling a bill that would allow police to use private security cameras — think: those in residential doorbells, medical clinics and retail stores — in real time for surveillance purposes.
The US city’s rules committee was due to vote on the draft ordinance on Monday, and it was pushed back at least a week by the panel; its members have indicated that they will vote on an amended proposal on July 18 at the earliest.
Matt Cagle, an attorney for the ACLU, called the proposal a “power grab” by SF cops. “It’s rare for a police department to seek to exploit private cameras – I’ve never seen this in California before,” he said. The register. “This is about the police asking permission to proactively and affirmatively approach owners of private cameras and say hello, can we live stream your cameras? This is unprecedented in history. from the city.”
Proposal [PDF] expands San Francisco’s 2019 Surveillance Ordinance, which, among other things, requires police to seek public and elected official permission before acquiring and deploying surveillance systems. So without this law, cops could be surveilling citizens without the public even knowing about it.
The 2019 law also limited cops’ access to and use of real-time video footage from things like Internet of Things cameras and security CCTV, and the police department and mayor say that this hampers their ability to fight crime.
The new proposal – championed by Mayor London Breed after November’s wild weekend of orchestrated burglaries and robberies in the San Francisco Bay Area – would allow the police department to use security cameras and camera arrays not belonging to the city to monitor live “important events with the public”. security issues” and ongoing criminal or tortious offences.
Currently, police can only request historical footage from private cameras tied to specific times and locations, rather than general surveillance. Mayor Breed also complained that police can only use real-time feeds in an emergency involving “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury”.
If approved, the draft order would also allow the SFPD to collect historical video footage to help conduct criminal investigations and those related to officer misconduct. The bill currently reads as follows, indicating that cops can broadly request and/or have access to real-time live video feeds:
Obtaining video footage from private security cameras has real public safety benefits and would help officers catch drug dealers and looters in real time, the San Francisco police chief said Monday. Bill Scott, to the legislators.
“What we would like to do is be able, in the appropriate circumstances, to live monitor this activity as it unfolds, so that we can have a better chance of apprehending those who are committing these acts.” , did he declare.
What we would like to do is be able, under the appropriate circumstances, to live monitor this activity as it occurs.
If the proposal successfully passes out of committee at next week’s hearing, it still needs to be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before becoming law. And he faces significant public opposition in the meantime.
Cagle said San Francisco supervisors have received “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of messages in the past few days” from residents opposing the proposal. And he pointed to an investigation [PDF] out of 372 likely voters, polled by the ACLU, who found that 60% of San Franciscans oppose police using private cameras to monitor people.
In a joint letter [PDF]17 organizations, including the ACLU of Northern California, the EFF, the social justice center GLIDE and the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, urged the oversight board to oppose or “meaningfully change” the policy, which they say will “allow the SFPD to engage”. in unprecedented live surveillance” via thousands of private cameras.
This could allow the SFPD to share video footage of, for example, women visiting medical clinics who perform abortions with out-of-state prosecutors, or undocumented immigrants going to work with immigration officers. federal, argued the organizations. We notice that San Francisco is a sanctuary city.
“We are deeply concerned that the SFPD proposal, if approved as written, threatens the privacy and safety of people going to work and school, accessing housing and seeking housing. social services that make our city healthy and safe,” the letter reads.
Opponents argue the proposal would be used to criminalize black and brown people, activists, immigrants, LGBTQ people and Muslims. And if lawmakers aren’t rejecting expanding surveillance outright, the groups want supes to at least set limits on what cops can monitor, how long they can retain data collected from private cameras. and with whom they can share the video footage.
As currently written, the proposal would allow police to spy on First Amendment activity, such as political protests or religious gatherings, and keep all footage on file for as long as officers choose.
“This concern is far from hypothetical: The EFF and ACLU of Northern California sued the city after the SFPD used a business district’s camera network to monitor protests live for eight days after the police killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020,” EFF Politics analyst Matthew Guariglia wrote in a blog post.
Over the next week, lawmakers are expected to meet with police and incorporate some changes into the surveillance proposal.
“Whenever a government builds a surveillance system that collects information about people, that system can be vulnerable to misuse by other agencies, allowing the SFPD to share collected imagery with very few limitations. “Cagle said. “What we’re saying is if we care about reproductive justice, if we care about ending police brutality, if we care about protecting activists, then we should do whatever we can to strengthen protection rather than increase surveillance.” ®