One thousand surveillance cams in SF and counting

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If you walk through densely populated commercial corridors on a regular basis, chances are you’re being recorded. Based on information compiled by CommunityCam, a data visualization project plotting the location of security cameras, there are at least 1,100 surveillance devices installed throughout San Francisco – and possibly many more.

Billed as a “community service initiative” designed to make neighborhoods safer, the CommunityCam platform was developed by VideoSurveillance.com, a proprietor of IP-connected CCTV systems that has served customers ranging from California Pacific Medical Center to Harvard University to Lockheed Martin.

The web-based platform reveals the precise locations of visible security cameras throughout the city, incorporating a crowd-sourcing component that allows anyone to plot the location of a camera.

San Francisco neighborhoods with the highest concentration of surveillance cameras include the Financial District, the areas around North Beach and Chinatown, and the Marina, the data shows. The vast majority of the cameras are privately owned, but the map plots all visible security cameras regardless of whether they’re operated by commercial interests or public agencies.

VideoSurveillance.com president Josh Daniels, a Portland resident who previously lived in San Francisco, launched the effort, which he described as an effort to improve public safety.

“The CommunityCam network of cameras gives community residents a way to investigate when an incident occurs,” Daniels said in an interview with the Guardian. Noting that accidents such as cyclist collisions or physical assaults were common in San Francisco streets, he said, "it's just impossible to investigate these kinds of incidents in San Francisco" without the presence of security cameras. He called the project "a way to let people know that video surveillance can be used in very positive ways."

While Daniels is not formally partnering with police, he described law enforcement as  “very interested in the locations of the cameras” and said he’d met with law enforcement groups in San Francisco as well as neighborhood groups, landlords, and building managers. He added that across the board, police agencies are “very strapped from a financial resources standpoint,” so his project can serve as a tool for those agencies without additional cost.

And collaboration with law enforcement could expand further down the road, Daniels said. “In the future there’s potential to expand the program and expand the services to give law enforcement access to privately held cameras,” Daniels said, “but that’s a long way off.” Media representatives from SFPD had not responded to the Guardian’s request for comment by press time.

While the CommunityCam platform introduces a new level of transparency to private security systems installed throughout the city, it also raises a number of questions. While it’s billed as a public safety program designed to illustrate the useful attributes of CCTV, CommunityCam also serves to illustrate the growing surveillance infrastructure in public space, a phenomenon that necessarily raises questions about the erosion of privacy in a hyper-connected world.

The early-stage data-mapping project also presents questions about how this tool could ultimately be developed and utilized, particularly if it's used toward developing a broader or more centralized surveillance infrastructure. If public safety officials or private security entities use the data to identify gaps where public space isn’t being monitored, it could be used to justify the installation of still more cameras.

Earlier this year, the Guardian spotlighted San Francisco’s pilot project testing out “smart” streetlights that would be wired into a centralized IP-connected system, with possible future uses as street surveillance. We’ve also kept an eye on the San Francisco Police Department’s efforts to collect surveillance footage from local bars.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates have flagged concerns about the proliferation of CCTV cameras in public spaces. Privacy advocates focused on CCTV are particularly active in the UK, where studies suggest the average Londoner is caught on camera 300 times per day on average, and new technologies such as cameras that incorporate license plate readers have been adopted in smaller cities.

Daniels said he’s very familiar with these concerns, but was dismissive of the idea that security cameras in public space presented any sort of encroachment on personal privacy. “My own opinion is that I don’t believe I have an expectation to privacy in a public setting,” he said.

While Daniels noted that CommunityCam is the first-ever attempt to plot security cameras in an interactive online format, it’s not actually true. Last summer, European privacy activists who wished to draw attention to the proliferation of CCTV cameras led a game called “camspotting” in Brussels, part of an international activism effort known as “1984 Action Day.” After going out and logging camera locations, they plotted them on an online map.

Comments

Are you telling me that I shouldn't feel safer?

Because if I had something to hide, they might be bad for my odds of getting away with it?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 11:52 am

The Guardian can see your ip address and knows exactly how many of these comments are yours and where you post from. They are too polite to point this out to you, but I just wanted you to know how safe you are.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

They think I am in Holland somewhere.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:53 pm
Posted by mount holyoke1 on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 7:59 am

In an ideal world it wouldn't matter but it is not an ideal world - there are bad guys out there.

Posted by anon on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 8:05 am

I saw the map and for sure I will use it next time, with this approach I should have excellent results!

Posted by Yachtcharter Grand Soleil 39 on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 1:09 am

Do you have any window coverings at your windows? If so, what are you trying to hide?

And if you have nothing to hide, give us all your e-mail addresses and passwords.

You and other bootlickers here would have lived most comfortably in another part of the world in the 1930s.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

I do not have one when I am out in the streets.

That's the crucial difference.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

Why would you expect privacy in your home? What are you hiding in your home that you are ashamed of or that might incriminate you?

Why didn't you list your e-mail addresses and passwords? What are you hiding?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

It doesn't say I can expect it in a private place.

If you do not like that distinction, go get the law changed.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

I can't understand the progressive preoccupation with freedom and privacy? The law is the law. What's right is to follow the law, whatever it may be. There was a time when people had an expectation of privacy. Now we're living in an era where the government has to protect us from Al-Queda. If the government decides that we no longer have an expectation of privacy in our homes, then I'll be the first to open my house to cameras in every room. In fact, the government has already decided that it needs to monitor all of our phone calls and emails. I'm comfortable with that. Because I'm not a terrorist, or a communist, or an environmentalist, or an opponent of the state.

I'm not in any of the categories that the government has targeted for increased surveillance -at this time. So I see no reason to stand up for any of those people.

Posted by anon on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 5:25 pm
Posted by anon on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

I'm hiding all kinds of embarrassing, private, and occasionally illegal activities in my home that don't hurt anybody but me and maybe my brain cells.

Outside however, where people once believed God was watching, we now have surveillance cameras watching, and I'm all for it. If they catch me ducking into an alley to hit a joint or grope my girlfriend, I'm not worried about that a bunch of storm-troopers are going to drop out of the sky and whisk me away.

If they catch some crackhead busting out my car window to rifle through my glove box, I'm okay with that too.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 4:56 am

The more cameras the better. Give criminals no quarter.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

been apprehended as a result, and several abducted children have been found.

I am happy to be filmed everywhere I go. No problem at all.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

If it helps resolve a few child custody disputes, then I'm all for giving up my liberty.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 5:53 pm

But I guess you'd rather those kids had been killed rather than you risk ever having your picture taken in a place where you have no reasonable expectation of privacy anyway.

Posted by anon on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

that the great majority of abductions are done by a parent in the course of divorce proceedings -they're really child custody battles. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I doubt that more than one or two (if that many) of the "several" abduction cases solved by cameras were anything more.

And yes, even if one child from a bona fide abduction gets found every decade or two, our liberty is too high a price to pay for that. But I'm sure you're "comfortable" with that. You're obviously comfortable with anything. You're comfortable with the surveillance state demanding cameras in every room of your house, if that's the law they decide to pass tomorrow.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

picture taken in public, where you have no reasonable expectation of privacy anyway?

Why does it not shock anyone when you take the side of a criminal?

Posted by anon on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

Your argument is so extreme that it doesn't need to be taken to reductio ad absurdum. It's already there. If you're willing to abandon all liberties, all privacy, for the sake of maybe, maybe stopping one child abduction which may have been stopped anyway (and it's not even proven that one single child has actually been saved)... well then why *not* install cameras in every room of every home, a la "1984?" Somewhere down the line you might save a child somewhere (with the convenient side benefit that it'll be that much easier for the government to keep tabs on its citizens).

Oh wait, I forget, you're *in favor* of that. You are one sick piece of work.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

What I said is that a camera in a place where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy does not take anything away from you or I, and it is a proven way of capturing criminals (not that you care about that).

Posted by anon on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 7:47 am

With all of the laws in the books, we are ALL violating some kind of law or another. Even being on the internet, you are violating several laws as there are a few laws regarding technology that are so vaguely worded that it makes us all criminals.

BTW, are you in favor of red light cameras, which have proven to cause MORE accidents making intersections less safe? People are so afraid of getting a ticket from the red light cameras, they slam on their brakes and get rear-ended. How about the speed cameras in Scottsdale, AZ that take your picture and mail you a speeding ticket? How about a camera outside focused on your bedroom to assure you're not committing sodomy? How about a police dog "randomly" taken around your house to make sure there are no drugs or explosives inside? All of these things are happening now. When, exactly, do you say "when"?

You'll also note that there are no laws that clearly define what a "terrorist" is...so maybe you'll get labelled a "terrorist" for something you do in the future, yes? Just like back in the 50s and 60s being labelled a Communist...it's the new boogie man.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 6:16 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 7:01 am

Any chance this movement can make it's way over to Oakland?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

CCTV coverage requires constant monitoring and reviewing. SF has the money to staff that. Oakland does not because the crime has scared away the taxbase that would pay for it.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 1:02 pm
Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

You've discovered a way to type comments and lick boots at the same time.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

It's a talent.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

so the administrators of this blog should post your IP address and your email. If you have nothing to hide, you should have no problem with that.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 7:06 am

So as you move from one Wi-Fi zone to another, your IP address changes?

If you'd like the IP address of the Starbucks I am currently at, how will that help you?

Posted by anon on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 7:30 am

Within two hours of posting, no fewer than 6 trolls have polluted the comment section with their feces. Maybe it's the same troll 6 times, talking to itself, answering itself with the same talking points over and over again. The point is, the comment section has again become worthless and unreadable.

Posted by Guardian reader on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

view that you disagree with?

Is that the famed San Francisco respect and tolerance for diversity?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

Completely agree. What exactly was the point of turning comments off for 6 days a couple of weeks ago and then turning comments back on? What did that accomplish? The place is back to being a cesspool (as expected). But I suspect they (the BG) don't care...otherwise they wouldn't have turned comments back on for the forum to resume its position as a troll playground.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 4:07 pm
Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

If a survey was done on for and against CCTV cameras in San Francisco, I believe there will be an overwhelming response for these cameras.

Posted by David on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

They want to impose their minority viewpoint on the majority.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

Who will give them a voice, this tiny frail majority?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 11:39 pm

there is still scope for a vocal minority to try and subvert the democratic process through activism and making more noise than the silent majority.

Resisting that requires vigilance.

Posted by anon on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 7:49 am

In the last few years, reports of abuses involving surveillance cameras have also surfaced. From camera surveillance of protestors in NYC to a San Francisco police officer, who faced disciplinary action for using surveillance cameras at the airport to ogle women.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 11:32 pm

there is often illegal activity at protests.

Posted by anon on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 7:49 am

there is often illegal activity in private homes.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 8:15 am

That pesky constitution again.

I do have camera's in my home filming 24/7. This is in case of a intruder or robber, i.e. home security. Obviously it films me as well but, as stated, I have nothing to hide.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 8:21 am
Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 8:31 am

starts going all grammar Nazi on my ass.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 10:31 am

I'm sure you lay in bed every night dreaming of having a Nazi on your ass.
That's why you support the idea of replacing America with a police state.
Also, your grammar is funny.
It's one of those funny thing's.
It's an integral part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade of your stupidity.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 11:54 am

You have no idea what a police state is like. I have visited some, and America isn't close to being one.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

"you support the idea of *replacing* America with a police state."
See?
Of course America isn't a police state. I was simply stating that turning it into a police state is a sexual fantasy for fucked up assholes like yourself, who are in the minority.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

police state, and it isn't, as noted before.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

to be so stupid?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 2:32 pm
Posted by anon on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

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