Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/The s.f. ExaminerACLU attorney Chris Conley speaks at a City Hall news conference about new surveillance legislation proposed by Supervisor John Avalos.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/The s.f. ExaminerACLU attorney Chris Conley speaks at a City Hall news conference about new surveillance legislation proposed by Supervisor John Avalos.

Tech surveillance devices would require public oversight in SF under proposed legislation

The use of high-tech surveillance tools would need public approval to be adopted by San Francisco agencies under new legislation announced by Supervisor John Avalos and the American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday.

National Security Agency-style technology is bleeding into law enforcement agencies nationwide with little oversight, the ACLU said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall. Among their recommendations, Avalos and the ACLU called for more transparency around government surveillance protocols in San Francisco.

“The wide [surveillance] net we cast over society makes many uneasy,” Avalos said. “It makes us wonder if we're being watched. It's chilling.”

The legislation will potentially call for all city surveillance technologies to have an in-depth cost analysis, policy outlines and established accountability mechanisms.

Police body cameras, license plate trackers, and other tech surveillance devices would all be subject to the legislation. These technologies routinely capture data from innocent and criminal San Franciscans alike, ACLU Technology and Civil Liberties Director Nicole Ozer said.

That data is often passed on by local law enforcement to federal agencies, she added, often with no public approval or input.

“Oversight is the exception,” Ozer said, “not the rule.”

Out of more than 90 California communities with over $65 million in surveillance technology, only five had public debates over its use, the ACLU found in a statewide survey.

The same holds true for San Francisco, it said.

The Police Department is not the only city agency to employ surveillance technology. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is drafting a plan to employ behavioral recognition software into Muni station cameras.

Avalos' legislation has not yet been drafted. He plans to approach the City Attorney's Office to do so next week.

The most potentially intrusive of government surveillance technologies are International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers, ACLU attorney Chris Conley said. These devices pose as false cell phone towers, and scoop up emails, text messages, voice calls and other cellular data of any mobile phone in its range.

Federal grant data from the Department of Emergency Management show the Police Department was approved for funding to buy one such cell phone tapping device, called a Stingray.

Police Officer Albie Esparza told The San Francisco Examiner “our chief supports transparency in the department.”

Police would not confirm it purchased or employs Stingray equipment.

“We are not able to discuss this,” Esparza said. “We are not able to confirm or deny the existence or use of the Stingray technology.”

It has yet to be determined if Avalos' legislation would require the Police Department to acknowledge if it collects widespread cellular data of San Franciscans.

ACLUBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsPoliticsSFPDsurveillance

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Cities including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are calling for large grocery and drug store chains to pay employees hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)
SF proposes $5 hazard pay law for grocery, drug store workers

San Francisco may soon join the growing number of cities requiring large… Continue reading

Hikers walk along a closed stretch of Twin Peaks Boulevard on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board to vote on future of Twin Peaks Boulevard

The proposal would keep Burnett Avenue gate closed to vehicles, open Portola Drive

Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Klein collects crayons from students in the classroom at Lupine Hill Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020 in Calabasas, California. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Newsom, legislators strike deal to reopen California schools

Taryn Luna and John Myers Los Angeles Times Gov. Gavin Newsom and… Continue reading

A sign about proposed development of the bluff at Thornton State Beach in Daly City on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Retreat center proposed at popular state beach

Daly City residents oppose construction on ocean bluffs

City supervisors are calling for an expansion of free summer programs for elementary age kids. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Supervisors urge city to provide free summer programs for all SFUSD students

San Francisco supervisors on Monday announced a proposal to expand summer programs… Continue reading

Most Read