SF Sees Dueling Ballot Proposals Over Police Surveillance Technology

In 2019, San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban the use of facial recognition technology (FRT). But three years later, supervisors say the San Francisco Police Department has failed to comply. A ballot measure introduced by Mayor London Breed would further undermine the effort to ban FRT by allowing police to use any type of surveillance technology in “public safety crisis areas” or at “critical events.”

"We need to change course on how we handle public safety in San Francisco," said Mayor Breed. "We can't be a place where anything goes on the street."

In response, supervisors Aaron Peskin, Connie Chan, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, and Sherman Walton have introduced their own ballot measure, the Safe Communities and Government Transparency Act. The measure would reaffirm the 2019 Surveillance Oversight Act and ensure SFPD compliance.

“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 a quote from the Davis Vanguard.

Critics of FRT have concerns about its accuracy, implicit bias, and overall privacy implications. But San Francisco, like many metros, is experiencing a crime surge. Elected officials like Breed want to appear proactive. Supporters of FRT say it is a critical public safety tool that can help police identify suspects, witnesses and victims quicker and ensure security in high-risk areas like government buildings.