San Francisco Police Violated City Law in Using Private Camera Network
San Francisco—On Friday, Jan. 14, at 9:30 am, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU of Northern California will ask a California state court to find that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) violated city law when it used a network of non-city surveillance cameras to spy on Black-led protests in 2020 against police violence in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
EFF and ACLU of Northern California sued the City and County of San Francisco in October 2020 on behalf of three activists of color for violating the city’s landmark Surveillance Technology Ordinance, which prohibits city departments from using surveillance technology without first putting it before the board of supervisors, who would have to pass an ordinance allowing it. The SFPD flouted a law meant to bring democratic control over government access to privacy-intrusive camera networks that can be used, as they were here, to spy on people exercising their First Amendment right to protest.
EFF uncovered evidence showing the SFPD broke the law when it obtained and used a business district’s network of more than 300 video surveillance cameras to conduct remote, live surveillance of Black-led protests for eight days in May and June 2020 without supervisors’ approval. Demonstrators marched through San Francisco’s Union Square business and shopping district to protest Floyd’s murder and racist police violence.
At a hearing scheduled for Jan. 14 that will be livestreamed for public viewing, EFF Staff Attorney Saira Hussain will tell the court that the evidence supports a judgment, without trial, against the SFPD and in favor of plaintiffs Hope Williams, Nathan Sheard, and Nestor Reyes. They are Black and Latinx activists who participated in and organized numerous protests that crisscrossed San Francisco in 2020.
The SFPD initially denied its officers viewed the camera feed during the eight days that it had access to the camera network. EFF and ACLU of Northern California obtained documents and deposition testimony showing at least one officer viewed the feed repeatedly over that time.
SFPD’s unlawful actions have made plaintiffs fearful of attending future protests, and will make it harder for them to recruit people for future demonstration, EFF and ACLU of Northern California wrote in a brief for the case Williams v. San Francisco.
EFF Staff Attorney Saira Hussain
Oral arguments on motion for summary judgment in Williams v. San Francisco
Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, at 9:30 am PT
San Francisco Superior Court
For EFF’s motion for summary judgment:
For more on this case: