March 19, 2012 | By Eva Galperin

San Francisco Ordinance to Safeguard Against SFPD/FBI Surveillance Abuses Faces Risk of Mayoral Veto

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to pass the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance, legislation that ensures that the San Francisco Police Department's counterterrorism activities are controlled by San Franciscans, rather than by the FBI. The ordinance requires San Francisco police officers working with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force to obey San Francisco's civil rights laws, follow San Francisco's anti-spying policies, and subjects them to civilian oversight by San Franciscans.

San Francisco has enacted especially robust protections for First Amendment activity to make sure that you can be yourself in public without worrying that the police are covertly tracking you. These protections include Department General Order 8.10, first adopted by the Police Commission in 1990, which requires that intelligence-gathering involving any First Amendment activity be based on reasonable suspicion of significant criminal activity. Additionally, the California Constitution requires an articulable criminal predicate for all intelligence-gathering activity.

Without local control, weaker federal standards apply. As things stand currently, there is no effective way to prevent SFPD inspectors assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force from joining FBI agents in collecting intelligence on San Franciscans without any particular factual predication, and without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance will hold the SFPD to the strong protections for privacy and free speech that have been backed by generations of the city's mayors, commissioners, police chiefs and community activists.

Now there is concern that Mayor Ed Lee will veto the ordinance unless the Board of Supervisors passes it with eight votes, a veto-proof margin, when it goes up for a final vote. Two district supervisors, Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen, have not yet announced their positions. The ACLU of Northern California has drafted a letter which San Franciscans can send to their Supervisors, asking them to stand up for free speech and privacy and support the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance. San Franciscans can also contact Mayor Ed Lee directly at (415) 554-6141 or email mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org.


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