San Francisco: Vote No on Proposition E to Stop Police from Testing Dangerous Surveillance Technology on You

San Francisco voters will confront a looming threat to their privacy and civil liberties on the March 5, 2024 ballot. If Proposition E passes, we can expect the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) will use untested and potentially dangerous technology on the public, any time they want, for a full year without oversight. How do we know this? Because the text of the proposition explicitly permits this, and because a city government proponent of the measure has publicly said as much.

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While discussing Proposition E at a November 13, 2023 Board of Supervisors meeting, the city employee said the new rule, “authorizes the department to have a one-year pilot period to experiment, to work through new technology to see how they work.” Just watch the video above if you want to witness it being said for yourself.

They also should know how these technologies will impact communities, rather than taking a deploy-first and ask-questions-later approach...

Any privacy or civil liberties proponent should find this statement appalling. Police should know how technologies work (or if they work) before they deploy them on city streets. They also should know how these technologies will impact communities, rather than taking a deploy-first and ask-questions-later approach—which all but guarantees civil rights violations.

This ballot measure would erode San Francisco’s landmark 2019 surveillance ordinance that requires city agencies, including the police department, to seek approval from the democratically-elected Board of Supervisors before acquiring or deploying new surveillance technologies. Agencies also must provide a report to the public about exactly how the technology would be used. This is not just an important way of making sure people who live or work in the city have a say in surveillance technologies that could be used to police their communitiesit’s also by any measure a commonsense and reasonable provision. 

However, the new ballot initiative attempts to gut the 2019 surveillance ordinance. The measure says “..the Police Department may acquire and/or use a Surveillance Technology so long as it submits a Surveillance Technology Policy to the Board of Supervisors for approval by ordinance within one year of the use or acquisition, and may continue to use that Surveillance Technology after the end of that year unless the Board adopts an ordinance that disapproves the Policy…”  In other words, police would be able to deploy virtually any new surveillance technology they wished for a full year without any oversight, accountability, transparency, or semblance of democratic control.

This ballot measure would turn San Francisco into a laboratory where police are given free rein to use the most unproven, dangerous technologies on residents and visitors without regard for criticism or objection.

This ballot measure would turn San Francisco into a laboratory where police are given free rein to use the most unproven, dangerous technologies on residents and visitors without regard for criticism or objection. That’s one year of police having the ability to take orders from faulty and racist algorithms. One year during which police could potentially contract with companies that buy up geolocation data from millions of cellphones and sift through the data.

Trashing important oversight mechanisms that keep police from acting without democratic checks and balances will not make the city safer. With all of the mind-boggling, dangerous, nearly-science fiction surveillance technologies currently available to local police, we must ensure that the medicine doesn’t end up doing more damage to the patient. But that’s exactly what will happen if Proposition E passes and police are able to expose already marginalized and over-surveilled communities to a new and less accountable generation of surveillance technologies. 

So, tell your friends. Tell your family. Shout it from the rooftops. Talk about it with strangers when you ride MUNI or BART. We have to get organized so we can, as a community, vote NO on Proposition E on the March 5, 2024 ballot. 


Thursday 25th January 2024 6:14 pm

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