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San Francisco’s Historic Surveillance Law May Get Watered Down

The measure paved the way for regulating privacy in other cities. Now Mayor London Breed wants to carve out broad exceptions for police as part of a crime crackdown. 

A video surveillance camera hangs from the side of a building on May 14, 2019 in San Francisco. That year, the city became the first to pass a surveillance regulation law, but now Mayor London Breed wants to roll back some of its provisions in a ballot initiative. 

A video surveillance camera hangs from the side of a building on May 14, 2019 in San Francisco. That year, the city became the first to pass a surveillance regulation law, but now Mayor London Breed wants to roll back some of its provisions in a ballot initiative. 

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In 2019, San Francisco passed a landmark ordinance regulating government surveillance and became the first of several cities to start mounting guardrails against government abuse of technologies like facial recognition. It’s now the first to face a challenge from within City Hall.

This month, as part of a broader crackdown on crime, San Francisco Mayor London Breed proposed a ballot measure for the June election that would carve out broad exceptions to the original ordinance and allow police to use real-time surveillance footage in certain situations without first seeking public approval. Almost immediately, five city lawmakers who supported the original more restrictive legislation mounted a counter-proposal, advancing their own ballot measure that would affirm its protections. In a statement, Breed said she’ll attempt to work with the city’s Board of Supervisors to pass legislation there, as a potential alternative to the ballot initiative.