Friday, September 30, 2022

San Francisco considers allowing police to live-monitor private surveillance cameras across city

The police chief in liberal San Francisco wants to live-monitor private security cameras that cover the city to fight the crime wave but he’s hitting resistance from elected leaders and civil liberties advocates. 

The proposal would allow law enforcement to gain access to a range of private cameras used by homeowners and businesses, such as doorbell cameras and internet protocol cameras.  

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ rules committee reviewed the proposal on Monday and member Aaron Peskin said they plan to revise the legislation with input from Police Chief William Scott and Mayor London Breed. 

“I very much believe in Chief Scott but this is not about Chief Scott, this is about a policy that will outlast this police chief and this board of supervisors,” Mr. Peskin said at the meeting. “I trusted in former President Obama but when technology of this sort falls in the hands of an administration like that of president number 45, one has to think a lot about the kind of guardrails and confines around these kinds of emerging technologies.” 

Chief Scott said the new proposal would not give his officers blanket authorization to take over private cameras but only use them during operations. He described the operations as lasting 24 hours before requiring a new approval.

The new power, he said, would help combat drug dealing and other street crime, including identifying criminals, gathering evidence and making stronger cases for prosecutors.

“This would not be done without permission, without evidence, without community complaints or evidence that these crimes are occurring. So this is not willy-nilly,” Mr. Scott told the supervisors.

Members of the board of supervisors, San Francisco’s city council, expressed skepticism about the plan but also signaled their desire to work with law enforcement to create the new government authority. 

Residents and civil liberties activists vehemently opposed the proposal. 

A resident who identified himself as a San Francisco resident said he thought the police and policymakers were attempting to remove the approval process that is customary for police work. 

“If there’s an emergency situation … they can get approval, so what you’re talking about is just removing any kind of approval process,” the man said. “You guys are like, some of you are progressive supervisors, this should just be dead in the water, I’m not even sure why it’s a conversation.”

Several dozen people also waited on the rules committee’s phone lines to express their opposition to the proposal. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California opposed the legislation and organized residents to voice concerns to the board, mayor and police chief. 

“The SFPD is trying to sneak by a policy that grants them sweeping live access to THOUSANDS of private cameras, including those on doorbells and businesses,” the ACLU of Northern California said on Twitter earlier this month. “It would be one of the largest expansions of surveillance in city history.” 

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