San Francisco Private Security Cameras

A new San Francisco ordinance has privacy rights advocates up in arms. I’m Amy E. Feldman.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, which is why police need a search warrant to gather information about a private citizen. But under a newly passed San Francisco ordinance, the police will now have the right to gain live access to privately-owned surveillance cameras if they’re responding to a life-threatening emergency, if there’s an event that poses public safety concerns, or if they’re conducting a criminal investigation. 

And they’ll have the right to monitor that footage live for up to 24 hours at a time. Since misdemeanors like jaywalking or vandalism happen on nearly every street in San Francisco on any given day, privacy rights experts fear that measure will give authorities the right to conduct near blanket surveillance. The measure will be in effect for the next 15 months—so we will soon see whether citizens are willing to trade freedom from constant monitoring for security.

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