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San Diego’s surveillance ordinance delayed, amended by city council

When you're out in public, who has a right to watch you? And, what are they allowed to do with that information? The San Diego City Council has been considering new rules about the city’s surveillance technology. But as KPBS reporter Jacob Aere tells us, the council made some late changes to the proposal after some pressure from the police department.

The San Diego City Council amended Monday a proposed ordinance to regulate the city's use, purchase and funding of surveillance technology.

The amendment exempts San Diego police officers who work with other law enforcement agencies on task forces from the new surveillance rules.

“Anything that reduces relationships with state-local or local and federal partners is not wise,” San Diego Police Chief Dave Nisleit said.

The city council voted 5-4 to incorporate the change after Nisleit argued the ordinance without the amendment would minimize his department’s impact.

“Based on the fact that the non-disclosure agreement would be null and void, I believe I have no choice but to remove my officers from task force,” he said.

The ordinance was crafted following revelations two years ago that San Diego’s energy efficient street lights carried cameras and microphones. The information surfaced after the cameras were installed.

In a lengthy and spirited City Council meeting Monday, many of the estimated 90 people who spoke favored the ordinance aimed at creating oversight of San Diego’s surveillance tools.

Former public defender Geneviéve Jones-Wright said the amendment blindsided many in the SD Trust Coalition who have been working on the ordinance for two years.

“This is an ambush," Jones-Wright said. "This is exactly why trust in our government is not a thing."

Privacy advocates said the ordinance already addressed security interests and federal task force concerns.

Jeanine Erikat of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans urged the council to quickly pass the ordinance without any amendments.

“San Diegans have a right to our privacy, and any amendments can and will open the flood gates of increased surveillance like so many have pointed out today,” she said. “And in particular, our Black, brown and Muslim communities, and in light of Roe v. Wade, women all across San Diego.”

The proposed surveillance ordinance will come back to the City Council on July 19 because of the amendment.