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Civil rights groups slam San Francisco surveillance expansion

The Register | January 13, 2007 
Dan Goodin

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are spearheading opposition to a plan by the San Francisco Police Department to install 25 new surveillance cameras throughout the city.

The groups, which also include the National Lawyers Guild, are encouraging residents to attend a meeting next Wednesday of the San Francisco Police Commission, which is scheduled to hold a vote on the proposal, according to the advocacy group. Critics argue the cameras are costly, fail to reduce crime and threaten privacy.

While surveillance cameras are a fact of life for residents in the UK, the move to install them in US cities - including New Orleans, Detroit, Los Angeles and Baltimore - is significantly newer. Last year, San Francisco started a pilot program that included the installation of 33 video cameras, and police intend to install another 50 over the next year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The cameras, which cost $4,000 to $7,000 apiece, are mostly installed in publicly subsidized housing projects throughout the city. Proponents, which include the city's Mayor, Gavin Newsom, say the surveillance program has already helped police catch a suspect who shot a girl in the leg and that a policy that images are automatically erased after 72 hours ensures civil liberties are not abused.

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