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San Francisco is challenged over use of private surveillance networks to monitor protests

Observers say that it was illegal.
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According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the San Francisco Police Department’s use of private camera surveillance networks during the George Floyd protest was illegal.

A new lawsuit challenges the SFPD’s use of a network of more than 300 cameras in the private Union Square Business Improvement District to spy on protests.

We obtained a copy of the newly-filed brief for you here.

In 2019, the city passed an ordinance that requires law enforcement to seek the board of supervisors’ approval before using privately-owned surveillance networks.

However, the ordinance has a “possessing or using” provision that the city is defending itself with the provision says law enforcement can continue using surveillance networks the supervisors have approved before while it considers the policy.

The city is arguing that the case has no merit because the Union Square Business Improvement District has previously allowed the police to use its camera network during the 2019 Pride Day march.

The argument was accepted in a lower court in February but is now being challenged.

According to the plaintiffs, the lower court misinterpreted the law. They argued that the “possessing or using” provision covers current and ongoing possession or use, not the deployment of surveillance in one event.

They further argued that allowing one-time use of a surveillance network to justify future surveillance “undermines the Ordinance’s overall purpose to ensure democratic control over surveillance technology.”

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