Court Orders San Francisco Sherriff’s Office to Stop Unconstitutional Surveillance of Individuals Released on Electronic Monitoring

Media Contact:, (415) 621-2493

Article Media

SAN FRANCISCO—A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday prohibiting the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office (SFSO) from requiring that individuals agree to unconstitutional “four-way” searches and GPS location data-sharing as conditions of pretrial release on electronic monitoring absent a court order. 

In September 2022, the ACLU of Northern California filed a class-action lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco and Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, whose office runs the county’s electronic monitoring program. In San Francisco, people who have been charged with crimes are often released while their case is pending if they wear an ankle monitor. Sheriff Miyamoto required all electronic monitoring participants to submit to searches of their person, property, car, or home at any time, for any reason, without a warrant, probable cause, or suspicion of a crime.

The sheriff also routinely shared real-time and historical GPS location data from ankle monitors with other law enforcement agencies, also without a warrant or any suspicion of involvement in a crime. Since the private company that administers the electronic monitoring program could indefinitely retain the location data— including for people who were no longer wearing an ankle monitor—law enforcement essentially had access to the details of individuals’ movements and lives, tracked over a period of months or even years, long after monitoring ended, even if the individual was never convicted of a crime.

ACLU NorCal sued on behalf of three individuals subjected to this surveillance, alleging violations of their constitutional rights. On February 13, Judge Jon S. Tigar of the Northern District of California certified a class action and found that the evidence suggested SFSO “impermissibly” imposed and enforced “intrusive conditions of release” despite a “lack [of] authority to set pretrial release conditions beyond those ordered by the court.”

The court gave SFSO 14 days to cease its unconstitutional surveillance, and 35 days to produce a written report demonstrating compliance with the court’s order.

“This is a big win for privacy rights. In our legal system, courts, not the sheriff, determine which intrusions on privacy are necessary for public safety, and they must do so in each individual case. The sheriff usurped the court’s authority and did so for every person granted pretrial release, regardless of their individual circumstances,” said Shilpi Agarwal, legal director of the ACLU of Northern California.

The law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer joined ACLU NorCal as co-counsel on the lawsuit. “This is a matter that could only have been resolved by a class action. The sheriff’s practices imposed constitutional harms on all electronic monitoring releasees equally, and this vulnerable population could not have obtained the necessary relief by suing individually,” said Justina Sessions, the partner on the matter and an expert in class-action litigation.

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, which represents most individuals who are released on electronic monitoring while awaiting trial in their criminal cases, lauded the court’s decision.

"We celebrate this legal victory as a vindication of our clients’ constitutional rights. The sheriff ignored our warning that subjecting presumptively innocent people released on electronic monitoring to blanket searches and sharing their private GPS location data is illegal. I am grateful the federal court has recognized that our clients' release on electronic monitoring does not give the sheriff a blank check to intrude upon the intimate details of their private lives,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju.

Read the court’s decision here.

File Under

Main Article Content