SAN FRANCISCO – On the eve of a key San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, the ACLU of Northern California and nearly three dozen community partners sent a letter to the board and to Mayor London Breed, expressing our grave concerns about her proposal to gut the surveillance oversight law and give virtually unchecked surveillance power to the police.
The letter also stated our unequivocal support for efforts by some supervisors to reinforce the current surveillance oversight law.
On Monday, the board’s Rules Committee will meet to consider Breed’s proposed ballot measure and the measure authored by supervisors to defend the surveillance oversight law. The Mayor’s proposal would gut the law that guarantees transparency and democratic oversight of decisions to acquire or use surveillance technologies, including real time surveillance cameras pointed at San Francisco residents. Passed in 2019 amid a groundswell of support from the ACLU and other community advocates, the groundbreaking ordinance established guidelines to protect individuals and organizations from rogue police surveillance.
For two and a half years, the San Francisco Police Department has refused to even participate in the lawful public oversight process. Now the Mayor’s proposed measure wants to reward this anti-democratic behavior by carving out massive exceptions in the law for SFPD. Her measure would give the SFPD broad authority to use any surveillance technology, not just cameras but also systems that listen to our conversations and watch us from the skies--without public oversight or guardrails to prevent civil rights abuse, as is required under the current law.
“Mayor Breed’s proposal seizes upon fear to shred the City’s current surveillance oversight law, give unchecked power to the police, and make San Francisco less safe,” said Matt Cagle, a staff attorney for the technology and civil liberties program at the ACLU of Northern California. “The San Francisco Police Department has a long, sordid history of using secret surveillance to target individuals, political activists, and social justice organizations. The ACLU supported the passage of this important surveillance oversight law to help stop police abuse. The Mayor’s measure attempts to turn back the clock on a key civil rights law that protects the people of San Francisco.”
This San Francisco-wide coalition includes groups advocating on behalf of immigrants, the unhoused, people of color, LGBTQ+, and religious minorities, who have often borne the brunt of police surveillance.
As our communities grapple with the devastation of the pandemic, the coalition letter demands that the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors reject more surveillance that actually makes people less safe. Instead, they need to implement community-supported, long-term solutions that alleviate the root causes of the many challenges our city faces.
Read the coalition letter here.