Tracking Surveillance Tech Used by Bay Area Law Enforcement

From automated license plate readers to drones to devices designed to identify gunshots, law enforcement agencies use a variety of tools to gather data. Many are visible, if not immediately obvious to casual passersby. Dave Maass, senior investigative researcher with the digital privacy nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, has been keeping a close eye on the proliferation of surveillance technology and helps educate the public on how to identify it. 

Stanford students Craig Nelson and Shelby Perkins have been researching which law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area use which technologies and mapping the results. Nelson and Perkins have also been tracking whether and how well agencies are complying with a state law that requires them to publish their standards, policies, procedures and training materials online. “When people are going out into the world we are now constantly surrounded by surveillance technology and it has become somewhat invisible to us even though it’s just right there in front of our eyes.

cyrus farivar

Law Enforcement Monitors Protesters, Reporting Shows

With hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in recent weeks to protest police killings and racism, the law enforcement response has been highly visible. But in less obvious ways, law enforcement officers also gather information about protesters both online and in public. Cyrus Farivar, a reporter on the tech investigations unit of NBC News in San Francisco and author of “Habeas Data” has covered some recent cases in which law enforcement surveillance of social media posts about protests has resulted in real life enforcement actions, including arrest by the FBI. Read Farivar’s reporting at NBC News. “I think for most of us we understand, like, OK: The police are looking for one criminal mastermind and they’re taking extraordinary measures to go after one person.

Protesters Weigh In on Defunding Police

At the demonstrations against police brutality and racism that have brought thousands to San Francisco’s streets in recent weeks, many protesters have carried signs carrying a demand to “defund the police.” The uprising sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has turned a spotlight on this proposal, and locally, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton have announced they are developing a proposal for something in that vein. How much money exactly is in play is unclear, but Walton and Breed have indicated they intend to redirect a portion of the SFPD’s nearly $612 million budget to benefit the city’s African American community. At a June 9 protest in front of City Hall, the crowd cheered and clapped when Breed brought up that proposal in her remarks. “Civic” spoke with people demonstrating about whether the idea of defunding the police department appealed to them, how drastically they would reduce funding, and what they would like to see money reinvested in. “I think that the defunding is different than reform.


Homeless Clamor for Safe Camp Sites While Over 1,000 Hotel Rooms Go Unused

Demand among homeless San Franciscans for the 40 slots the city is making available in its Haight-Ashbury safe camping site has outstripped supply, even as more than 1,000 hotel rooms and trailers meant for vulnerable residents sit empty. Around 60 people have requested to stay at the site, which has space for only 40 tents, said Mary Howe, director of the Homeless Youth Alliance.


Police Chief Urges Continued S.F. Curfew Until Looting, Violence End

San Francisco remains under an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in the wake of a nationwide civil uprising over the death of George Floyd, an African-American man killed at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. During a Monday morning press conference, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said he is cautioning Mayor London Breed not to end the curfew too soon.