San Francisco police allowed to use private security cameras, even for live feeds

San Francisco Supervisors have decided to allow police access private surveillance cameras, including live feeds, as long as the owners of the cameras give permission.

Officers were given the access under the new controversial program approved by city leaders in a 7-4 vote on Tuesday.

The 15-month pilot program has conditions in which officers can view real-time security camera video, one of which is to obtain a warrant if businesses or homeowners grant permission. 

Police can request up to 24 hours of access to live surveillance video in three circumstances: to respond to a life-threatening emergency, to decide how to deploy officers during a large event with public safety concerns and to conduct a criminal investigation.

When the bill was being considered, Chief Bill Scott said being able to monitor crime in real-time would allow police to respond more quickly.

"If we could tap into that information we could be more efficient, more effective and more surgical in terms of the people who are involved in activity, making sure we address those people and not others who are not involved in that activity," said Scott.

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Critics of the new policy say it could lead to mass surveillance that would infringe on privacy rights.

"I oppose SFPD video surveillance policy because it will violate privacy rights and fuel racial profiling, and am disappointed with its passage," Public Defender of San Francisco Mano Raju wrote on social media. He thanked supervisors Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, Connie Chan and board President Shamann Walton for voting against its passage. He also thanked the coalition they partnered with to oppose the policy. 

San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation said they are "concerned about what this could mean for the rights of people in the LGBTQ community, communities of color and religious minorities. And people…engaged in lawful protest."