A new report reveals that in just three months, from July 1 to September 30, 2023, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) racked up 193 hours and 19 minutes of live access to non-city surveillance cameras. That means for the equivalent of 8 days, police sat behind a desk and tapped into hundreds of cameras, ostensibly including San Francisco’s extensive semi-private security camera networks, to watch city residents, workers, and visitors live. An article by the San Francisco Chronicle analyzing the report also uncovered that the SFPD tapped into these cameras to watch 42 hours of live footage during the Outside Lands music festival.
The city’s Board of Supervisors granted police permission to get live access to these cameras in September 2022 as part of a 15-month pilot program to see if allowing police to conduct widespread, live surveillance would create more safety for all people. However, even before this legislation’s passage, the SFPD covertly used non-city security cameras to monitor protests and other public events. In fact, police and the rich man who funded large networks of semi-private surveillance cameras both claimed publicly that the police department could easily access historic footage of incidents after the fact to help build cases, but could not peer through the cameras live. This claim was debunked by EFF and other investigators who revealed that police requested live access to semi-private cameras to monitor protests, parades, and public events—despite being the type of activity protected by the First Amendment.