Board of Supervisors Approves Camera Access Legislation to better Protect Residents, Businesses, and Neighborhoods
Mayor Breed’s legislation will help address serious public safety challenges while maintaining critical privacy safeguards
San Francisco, CA — The Board of Supervisors today approved legislation authored by Mayor London N. Breed to improve and clarify local laws governing the use of security cameras during situations with serious public safety impacts and in neighborhoods facing critical public safety challenges. The ordinance, which was co-sponsored by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and Supervisor Ahsha Safai, passed by a 7-4 vote.
The approved law authored by Mayor Breed will clarify and explicitly authorize law enforcement to temporarily use non-city owned cameras to respond to the challenges presented by organized criminal activity, homicides, gun violence, officer misconduct, among other crimes, while strengthening critical safeguards and oversight to prevent misuse. Over the last several months, the Mayor’s Office and SFPD have worked closely with Supervisor Aaron Peskin to shape the proposed legislation into its final form passed today.
This new law follows on other recent legislative actions led by Mayor Breed, including passing a budget to fill 200 vacant positions in the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), increasing incentives to recruit and retain more police officers, and passing and implementing a new law that addresses unpermitted street vendors in the city.
“Our residents and small businesses want us focused on keeping San Francisco safe for everyone who lives and works in the City,” said Mayor London Breed. “This is a sensible policy that balances the need to give our police officers another tool to address significant public safety challenges and to hold those who break the law accountable. I want to thank my co-sponsors and Supervisor Peskin for working collaboratively with our office to get this legislation passed.”
“As the author of the legislation that created reasonable regulations for oversight of the City’s use of surveillance technology, the policy as amended endeavors to balance the public’s civil liberties and right to privacy with practical logistics of enforcing the public’s safety,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who chairs the Rules Committee. “The Rules Committee spent considerable time weighing these priorities and ultimately chose to limit the policy to a one-year trial period, after which the Board of Supervisors will reevaluate, the policy based on a review of a year’s worth of data that the SFPD will be required to report.”
Under the conditions outlined in the ordinance, temporary live monitoring will cease, and the connection will be cut off within 24 hours after the non-city entity has provided access to SFPD. The Department has considered and carved out safeguards relating to potential impacts to the right to privacy, loss of liberty, warrantless searches, and equal protections when making requests for nongovernmental camera footage or temporary live monitoring of non-city owned cameras.
"Surveillance cameras owned and operated by businesses and individuals serve as a valuable tool for police to identify, investigate and arrest those who commit crimes against the visitors and residents in this city. As required by SF Admin Code 19B, SFPD has gathered feedback through a public vetting process, that began in March of this year, in order to strike a balance between gathering objective evidence of a crime and preserving every individual’s right to privacy and security," states SFPD Chief William Scott. "I want to thank Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, and the members of the Board of Supervisors for their leadership and support of the SFPD non-city entity surveillance policy ordinance."
The proposed policy underwent the process mandated by the law regulating use of surveillance technology, authored by Supervisor Peskin, and was heard in four separate hearings by the Committee on Information Technology (COIT) and its Privacy and Surveillance Advisory Board (PSAB) between March 25, 2022 and April 21, 2022. COIT voted to recommend the policy to the Board of Supervisors for approval on April 21, 2022.
This ordinance is part of a citywide, multi-departmental adoption of technology use policies to strategically use technological advances to strengthen and expand the delivery of City services to residents, businesses, visitors, and neighborhoods. Departments with forthcoming technology use policies include the Airport, Department of Elections, Fire Department, Juvenile Probation Department, Municipal Transportation Agency, Public Library, Recreation and Parks Department, and War Memorial.
Currently, local laws generally bar law enforcement from accessing live video footage from non-city owned cameras in any situation other than situations that involve imminent danger of death or serious physical injury. Temporary live video access of non-city owned cameras is not allowed for crime prevention purposes or investigatory purposes, even if the crime is violent or likely to result in serious harm, such as gun violence or violence related to drug dealing in residential neighborhoods, or if the purpose is to investigate officer misconduct.
The new policy would allow law enforcement to request temporary access no longer than 24 hours in duration to non-city owned cameras to view real-time activity:
- During exigent circumstances, which are situations that involve imminent danger of death or imminent danger of serious physical injury,
- During significant events with public safety concerns for the sole purpose of deployment or placement of personnel,
- To further specific investigations into criminal activity
This includes security cameras owned by third parties that do not have any contractual or other obligation to share footage with law enforcement that have been installed by non-city owners or operators outside of small businesses, residential buildings, and other commercial buildings.
Details on New Public Safety Camera Law
The new policy would also codify the existing practice used by the police to gather potential evidence in the form of recorded video in the furtherance of a criminal investigation and for the purposes of investigating officer misconduct.
Significant public safety events are large or high-profile events in the City where SFPD Special Events Unit and Traffic Company manage street closures, barricades, and crowd management, Special Investigations Division manages dignitary escorts, or Homeland Security Unit is assigned to thwart potential terrorist or criminal attacks. These units may require and request additional deployment efforts during these events based on activity detected during live monitoring which allows for situational awareness and the ability to coordinate resources based on the information obtained from this temporary use.
The approved legislation comes with significant safeguards and oversight, including:
Clear Safeguards on Use of Cameras that include, but are not limited to, restrictions on how the cameras can be used; how long they can be used; rules for data retention as well as data disposal; continuing the bar against the use of facial recognition technology; barring any live monitoring inside residential dwellings; barring any live feed during First Amendment activities for reasons outside of redeployment needs; and mandatory training before any technology can be used by any authorized individual.
Strong Oversight provisions, including but not limited to, quarterly reporting of all live monitoring requests to the Police Commission and copying the Board of Supervisors for the first two years, with a bi-annual report after that two year period; mandatory tracking of every exercise of this allowable temporary access; maintaining a log of each time camera footage is requested, approved, or denied by a non-city entity and making the log available for on-demand audits; and continuing the private right of action enshrined in the existing law which allows for additional oversight through the civil legal system. The legislation also includes a sunset provision that mandates that the Board of Supervisors must affirmatively reauthorize this policy in order for the policy to continue after the initial year as an additional safeguard against any possible misuse of real-time camera access by law enforcement.