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SF supervisor’s proposal on surveillance targets police body cameras

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Under a proposed ordinance, all San Francisco city departments that use or acquire surveillance equipment — including the Police Department, which is currently working on a policy governing body cameras for officers — would be audited annually and forced to create specific policies guaranteeing civil liberties and privacy.

John Avalos

John Avalos

Supervisor John Avalos’ ordinance would require all departments to have a surveillance data policy within a year, and it would also require an annual audit to monitor how well they are following that policy.

Body-mounted cameras for police would be subject to the new rules.

“Legally enforceable safeguards must be in place to protect civil liberties and civil rights before any surveillance technology is deployed,” according to the ordinance.

Upon introducing the ordinance at the Board of Supervisors last week, Avalos said it would provide some transparency in the use of surveillance technology.

“The City needs to be proactive in making sure there’s public oversight of how these technologies are used,” Avalos said last week. While Some of these technologies provide public benefit, “we need to create a public process for reviewing them and approving them, as well as implementing policies about how they’re regulated.”

Police Commission President Suzy Loftus, who will be among the commissioners who decide on the final body camera policies for the Police Department, said she could not comment on any impacts Avalos’ proposal would have on police body cameras because she was not familiar with the ordinance’s language.

Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed budget includes $6 million to equip all 1,700 sworn police staff with body cameras. The Police Commission on May 6 gave the department three months to finalize a policy for the cameras.

Avalos asked board President London Breed to fast-track the ordinance so supervisors can be consider while they review the mayor’s budget proposal for body camera funds. San Francisco’s budget must be finalized by June 30.

Last November, Avalos asked the City Attorney’s Office to draft legislation to create a surveillance accountability ordinance. As part of that request he shared the American Civil Liberties Union model with the city attorney and other departments. Since then his office has worked with the city attorney to integrate the surveillance oversight process into San Francisco’s budget process.

The ordinance would require the Board of Supervisors to approve a surveillance data policy before any department seeks funding or grants for surveillance technologies. It would also require city departments to submit annual reports on the uses of surveillance technologies.

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