San Francisco's plan to surveil private security cameras is 'authoritarian,' says tech oversight advocate

San Francisco law would 'throw out the Fourth Amendment' said the advocate against surveillance abuse

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San Francisco’s plan to allow police officers access to real-time private security cameras would be ineffective at stopping crime and a violation of peoples’ rights, a surveillance technology oversight advocate said.

"We know these systems don't work and it's political theater, but we pay a real price, not just in dollars and cents, but with our civil rights," Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told Fox News. 

San Francisco's new district attorney Brooke Jenkins proposed rules that would allow the police department to tap into privately owned security cameras and camera networks to live monitor "significant events with public safety concerns" and ongoing felony or misdemeanor violations.

Former prosecutor Brooke Jenkins talks about the upcoming recall of district attorney Chesa Boudin during an interview in San Francisco on May 26, 2022. 

Former prosecutor Brooke Jenkins talks about the upcoming recall of district attorney Chesa Boudin during an interview in San Francisco on May 26, 2022.  (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

Additionally, the ordinance would allow police to "gather and review historical video footage for the purposes of conducting a criminal investigation."

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"We're being taken for a ride," Fox Cahn said in regard to the proposed law. 

"We've seen so many cities waste millions of dollars in the past with cameras, systems that invade our privacy but actually fail to keep us safe," he said. 

Fox Cahn pointed to cities like London and New York which invested heavily in surveillance infrastructure in the past with no real effect on crime rates. 

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Fentanyl is a popular street drug that can cause users to hunch while remaining standing, called the 'fentanyl fold.' (Fox News Digital/Jon Michael Raasch)

Fentanyl is a popular street drug that can cause users to hunch while remaining standing, called the 'fentanyl fold.' (Fox News Digital/Jon Michael Raasch)

Jenkins, 40, was sworn in by Mayor London Breed last week and has vowed to crackdown on crime in the city. 

"I believe this policy can help address the existence of open-air drug markets fueling the sale of the deadly drug fentanyl," she wrote in a letter to city supervisor Aaron Peskin.

"Mass organized retail theft, like we saw in Union Square last year, or targeted neighborhood efforts like we've seen in Chinatown is another area where the proposed policy can help," she continued. 

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Fox Cahn pointed out that San Francisco already has countless public security cameras in place which seem to be useless in curbing the city’s rising crime rates. 

"Instead of recognizing how problematic this plan is, we just throw more good money after bad," he said. 

Not only will this change be ineffective in stopping crime, Fox Cahn said it is also a violation of civil rights. 

"When we have a society where everyone is photographed, where every movement we take is monitored. That's not a democracy. That's authoritarianism," he said. 

Brooke Jenkins is expected to be named San Francisco's newest district attorney after her former boss, Chesa Boudin was ousted in a recall election in June. 

Brooke Jenkins is expected to be named San Francisco's newest district attorney after her former boss, Chesa Boudin was ousted in a recall election in June.  (Fox San Francisco )

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"We're throwing out the Fourth Amendment. We're shredding the Bill of Rights, and we're not getting anything in return," he continued. 

The more private companies continue to partner with government agencies on surveillance initiatives, the more citizens should be concerned about their freedoms, Fox Cahn said. 

"Unless we put up protections, unless we carve out some space to have a private life, we turn into a society that I don't think any of us actually want to live in," he said. 

The city's Rules Committee is set to vote on an amended proposal next week.

The San Francisco District Attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment.