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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

San Francisco's Crowd-Sourced Surveillance Turns All of Us Into Cops

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2013 at 7:00 AM

  • Ted Rheingold

Yesterday a camera installed on a car dashboard captured a daytime shooting in East Oakland, at such close range that anyone watching the video could hear bullets popping in the background.

San Francisco also winds up on camera. In the past few months alone we've had a chance to watch viral clips of three girls beating up an elderly woman on Muni, and a naked BART acrobat executing perfect pirouettes and handstands while assaulting people. The ubiquity of video surveillance, and the ham-handedness of criminals has made a whole slew of crimes accessible to the non-criminal types (that'd be you).

With more than 1,000 surveillance cameras scattered throughout San Francisco, expect to see more crime scenes around the corner. A Portland-based virtual security integrator,, took advantage of this phenomenon by creating crowd-sourced maps to let consumers know where all the privately held cameras in their city are located.

Founder Josh Daniels rolled out the project in Portland and launched it in San Francisco yesterday, with the idea that he might enable regular Joes to anticipate and report crime. He calls it the CommunityCam Initiative, both because city dwellers can use the cameras to police themselves, and because it took a large community -- mostly of people scouting for cameras on foot, or reporting cameras on their own property -- to create the maps in the first place.

He says the platform might also help bikers and pedestrians, since it could be used to monitor hit-and-run accidents.

What's almost more interesting about the camera map is what it says about our city's psychology. Daniels' team spotted large clusters of cameras in SOMA, North Beach, and the Financial District, home to the city's largest concentration of banks, government buildings, and tech companies. It's also an area where people apparently have a low expectation of privacy -- or little knowledge that they're being watched.

Perhaps that's the cost of added protection, though some might find it a little, well, unsettling. The good news is that with the CommunityCam maps, those of us who value privacy will now know which areas to avoid.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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