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San Francisco OKs Police Surveillance Via Private Cameras

San Francisco city leaders approved a 15-month pilot that allows police to monitor live footage from surveillance cameras owned by consenting businesses and civilians without a warrant. The 7-4 decision by the San Francisco board of supervisors was a major loss for a coalition of civil liberties groups that had argued the move would give police unprecedented surveillance powers. It also marked a departure from the progressive stance on surveillance the city’s leadership had previously maintained, the Guardian reports. In May 2019, the board made the city the first to ban the use of facial recognition by any local government. More than three years later, some board members say that need to balance concerns of privacy and the need for law enforcement officials to use technology. Proponents have argued that accessing real time video footage will help alleviate deficiencies caused by staffing shortages at the police department – a sentiment echoed by some of the city’s business improvement districts. “With so many fewer officers, the easier we can make their job the better,” said Tracy Everwine, who leads the Mid-Market business district.


The mayor's office said the program will have “strong guardrails against misuse of this technology." It includes the “right of the owner or operator to refuse any request for access, a mandate that the police maintain a log of all written requests for access that are auditable upon demand, training for any officer who would have access to video, and explicit prohibitions against using temporary live video access to target anyone for exercising their First Amendment rights”, the mayor’s office said. San Francisco has seen complicated shifts in its crime dynamics– rising homicides but a decline in violent crime. Still, many residents and business owners perceive crime to be on the rise. “People are being told there’s a rise in crime and maybe they’re experiencing some themselves and they want to see something being done about it,” said Dave Maass of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Vendors come in promising the world with these technologies without talking about the risks or threats and policymakers just swallow it without questioning it." Civil liberties advocates argued the expansion of surveillance camera access for police was another sign that business interests trumped those of the city’s residents.






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