San Francisco Board of Supervisors Introduce Ballot Measure to Ensure Basic Oversight and Transparency Over Government Use of Facial Recognition

By Tiffany Thai

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Connie Chan, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, and Shamann Walton introduced a June 2022 ballot measure to help guarantee police – who have ignored previous privacy legislation – and other agencies preserve the privacy of citizens.

In a press release from Supervisor Peskin, the lawmaker notes the Safe Communities and Government Transparency Act would ensure compliance and prevent interference with the Surveillance Oversight Act, approved in 2019 and adopted by at least 22 other area jurisdictions, including Oakland, Berkeley and Santa Clara.

Historically, San Francisco’s OK of the Surveillance Oversight Act made SF the first locale in the U.S. to prohibit the government use of face surveillance systems.

Facial recognition is a highly invasive technology that allows authorities to track and control people’s movements in their lives continually.

It has been three years since the Surveillance Oversight Act passed. Still, the Supervisors said the San Francisco Police Department has not complied even when they have the resources.

The Safe Communities and Government Transparency Act reinforces existing law and bans the use of surveillance technology to collect, use, store, and share sensitive private information.

The Act builds upon previous legislation the Board of Supervisors has passed, which bans the use of facial recognition technology and requires all City departments who use the technology to publicly record the use of security cameras, automated license plate readers, and other technologies.

This act preserves a provision allowing SFPD and other City departments to use security cameras and other surveillance technology if exigent circumstances exist without the Board of Supervisors’ approval.

This Act follows a ballot measure that has been introduced by San Francisco Mayor London Breed supported by SFPD’s Command staff allowing the Chief of Police to loosely declare “public safety crisis areas” or “critical events.” This will enable SFPD to use any type of surveillance technology for an undetermined time without oversight.

The Act introduced by Mayor Breed undermines the legislation that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors previously passed in an attempt to protect the citizens from over surveillance.

Supervisor Peskin criticized Mayor Breed’s ballot measure stating, “If City departments are using drones equipped with cameras that can scan a person’s iris and listen in on conversations happening a football field away, we deserve to know how that technology is being used, who has access to that information, and what they are going to do to it.”

Board President Walton said, “We need to be able to hold all city departments – including law enforcement – accountable in protecting the privacy and civil rights of our constituencies. This is how you build public trust in San Francisco and its communities of color.”

Supervisor Ronen commented the ballot measure should not be needed to create compliance from SFPD.

“While we shouldn’t have to go to the ballot to get top officials to comply with the law, the Board of Supervisors is undeterred in its role of holding SFPS accountable for the public safety of everyone.”

Supervisor Ronen also echoed Board President Walton’s sentiment on how surveillance impacts communities of color.

“History has proven that our most vulnerable communities bear the brunt of abuses of surveillance power by unaccountable governments, whether it’s racial profiling or harassing activists. I find the SFPD’s lack of compliance with the law extremely damaging to the public trust. We can do better,” said Ronen.

In support of the Safe Communities and Government Transparency Act, San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju stated, “Expanding police surveillance empowers a department that continues to disproportionately target and harm communities of color.”

He added, “San Franciscans have long rejected giving police expansive powers to swoop more people into a biased criminal legal system. Drug use and economic crimes can’t be addressed by expanding the police state, they are prevented by investing in marginalized communities.”

The ACLU of Northern California also tweeted in support of the ballot measure stating, “SFPD should follow the law, not try to blow a hole through it.”

San Francisco has long been known as a sanctuary city for many. The Safe Communities and Transparency Act attempts to protect San Franciscans from surveillance which disproportionately affects communities of color. The five Board of Supervisors in introducing this ballot measure attempts to maintain the sanctuary embodied in the communities of San Francisco.

The Act will be on the June 2022 San Francisco primary ballot.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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  1. Chris Griffith

    It’s just a tool. There’s no difference in technology between the FBI using it to identify the rioters at the Capitol insurrection for arrest and the Chinese government using it to identify protesters in Hong Kong to disappear







    1. Bill Marshall

      It’s just a tool.

      On this, I agree… but, tools can be misused… there needs to be rules on how folk use tools… ex.:  a chainsaw is a tool… should a surgeon use it when a scalpel would be the appropriate tool?

  2. Alan Miller

    I’m sure the government laughs like a Bond villain at the futility of laws passed to restrict the use of such technologies that will ultimately enslave us.

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