Don't Rush Into Mass Surveillance in San Francisco

By: Abdi Soltani
surveillance cameras

I grew up outside Boston and used to watch the Marathon as it ran by, near where we lived. My heart goes out to the City of Boston and everyone impacted by recent events.

Following the bombing there, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has proposed installing surveillance cameras along Market Street.

While we all want to make sure that our cities our safe, the ACLU of Northern California has serious concerns about the potential for warrantless mass surveillance a plan like this holds. Surveillance camera don't prevent terrorist attacks. They didn't prevent last week's attack in Boston and they didn't prevent the 2005 attacks in London, one of the most heavily watched cities in the world. We must be incredibly careful that we don't sacrifice our liberty for the illusion of increased safety.

Whether police utilize public or private cameras, as they did in Boston, to aid in their investigation, they need to follow the law. Cities must ensure that proper safeguards are in place to prevent misuse and abuse.

Security cameras can help law enforcement investigations after a crime has been committed, but blanket and suspicion-less monitoring beforehand grows the intelligence haystack without making the needle any easier to find.

Law enforcement should only have permission to use invasive tracking methods after getting a warrant signed by a judge. But, as surveillance technologies get cheaper and more pervasive, we must ensure that we don't create a society in which all of our actions and public movements are recorded and stored forever.

We shouldn't rush into mass surveillance of San Franciscans as they go about their everyday lives. There are many questions about the privacy implications and effectiveness that need to be answered about this proposal before it could move forward.

Abdi Soltani is the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California.