December 6, 2023

A new ordinance to create oversight of surveillance technologies is waiting for a signature by San Diego mayor Todd Gloria. It will govern how police can use surveillance technology in their jobs.

Under the new ordinance, the City Council must approve the use of technology that can monitor and identify individuals.

Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans’ Homayra Yusufi said the ordinance has been years in the making.

“The surveillance oversight ordinance came about after it was made aware that the City of San Diego had smart streetlight cameras, thousands of them, installed all over the city without any education or information to the public,” Yusufi said.

City services like the San Diego Police Department will need to seek approval to continue to use any technologies that fall under the ordinance.

KPBS reached out to the San Diego Police Department for comment about the ordinance, but they declined an interview Tuesday. The San Diego Police Officers Association sent a statement saying the ordinance would burden police with “red tape” and “personnel costs.”

“The SDPOA is not opposed to community input on surveillance and increased transparency that does not impact active investigations,” the statement read. “However the level of bureaucracy imposed by the ordinance is time consuming and will take officers off the street.”

While the smart streetlight program is no longer in use, Yusufi said the ordinance will cover a wide range of surveillance issues, both in the present and future.

“We want to make sure that when we are assessing technologies that have surveillance implications on everyday San Diegans, that we actually understand those things. That we have a transparent government and that there’s some sort of oversight over these things,” she said.

The ordinance includes a one-year grace period, which is intended to give the city time to assemble the privacy advisory board. It will also allow city departments to survey which technologies they use.

Notably, the ordinance includes an exemption for police officers on federal task forces — at the request of police Chief David Nisleit.

“We are concerned about this loophole that was created, however we still feel that this is a strong ordinance and it will help from where we are currently today,” Yusufi said.

City staff members will need to issue reports that outline the intended use of surveillance technologies and have the public weigh-in through community meetings.

The council will reconsider the use of the technology annually.

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