We are concerned that the so-called “Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance” currently being considered by the Board of Supervisors will limit the ability of law enforcement to fight crime with video cameras.
The proposed law, also known as the “Acquisition of Surveillance Technology Ordinance” would:
1. Prohibit city departments from using security technology services or equipment unless the Board of Supervisors first approves a Surveillance Technology policy for the services and equipment.
2. Outright ban the use of facial recognition technology, which precludes the possibility of significant technological improvements. Refinements that address today’s shortcomings could make facial recognition a valuable security tool.
3. Create too much legislative burden for the use of traditional security video.
This proposed law is well-intended. It is important to acknowledge the problems with facial recognition technology and the city needs a policy for use of traditional video cameras. We support the intention of this law and offer the following amendments to ensure its success.
Exclude the District Attorney, Sheriff and Police Departments (while performing investigative, prosecutorial or security functions, including terrorist and hate-crime threats) from the requirements of this ordinance. The proposed ordinance would require the SFPD to cease use of vehicular or body-mounted cameras during operations within 120 days unless and until both the department and the Board of Supervisors comply with certain requirements; this could result in an increase in unsolved crimes, police misconduct, or misidentification of innocent members of the public. Similarly, the Sheriff’s Department could not monitor operations in the prisons, or the DA use video/photo evidence to prosecute domestic violence or other violent crime cases. Failure to permit monitoring in the prisons could result in prisoner abuse or prisoner-on-prisoner violence, while limitations on access by the DA could result in miscarriages of justice and increase the crime rate. San Francisco juries increasingly seldom convict in property crimes without photographic evidence.
Exclude SFO from certain requirements of this ordinance. It is intuitively obvious that airports are particularly vulnerable to certain types of terrorist activity.
Change the effective date of the Ordinance to the beginning of the next fiscal year, or 180 days after enactment, whichever comes later. Most departments do not have the expertise or resources to fulfil the detailed and highly technical requirements of this proposed legislation without additional time.
Require that additional funds be explicitly allocated to each affected department in the applicable fiscal year, including the Controllers’ office, to comply with the requirements of this ordinance. Reducing existing services in order to comply with the proposed ordinance’s requirements is unacceptable.
Revise compliance dates in Sec. 19.B.5 (a) to 180 days and in Sec. 19.B.5 (b) to 150 days, for reasons stated above.
Require any cost benefit analysis to include an estimate of economic and social costs to the public as well as city government of reduced arrests and convictions that might result from banned or restricted use of technology.
Require any cost benefit analysis to examine the cost of alternatives to surveillance technology.
Delete requirements for public release of identification of certain locations for surveillance technology. This information should be classified for selected locations to protect against criminal activity or terrorist activities. There is no reason to give potential lawbreakers a roadmap to areas where they can safely carry out criminal activities.
Eliminate any ban on facial recognition technology or include at minimum a two-year sunset clause in any such ban. This technology is improving at a rapid rate, so error rates will inevitably improve. Existing problems likely will diminish or disappear with technological advances, so further legislative action should be required if justified when examining future outcomes.
Clarify the definition of “any individual or group” included in the definition of “Surveillance Technology” to exclude criminals, suspects and prisoners. Obviously, the legitimate aim of surveillance is to identify and prevent these groups from the commission of crimes.
Consider the impacts on the public of reduced surveillance at large crowd events such as the Pride Parade and the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration. These events might become targets for hate-group terrorists if it became known that surveillance technology use was reduced at such occasions.
Allow the public to provide surveillance evidence to City agencies for use in crime investigations.
Exempt use of facial recognition technology to access computer, smart phone and other instruments used by City employees. Rather than use passwords, many devices employ facial recognition to allow users access to their phones, etc.