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

Categories: Law & Order, Tech

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.

My Voice Nation Help

I bet these cams record lats of crack smoking and ppl giving each other bj's and no enough real crimes. Are then these necessary? 

aliasetc topcommenter

Privacy is over! Big Brother is watching and listening! We're screwed!

mrericsir topcommenter

Why is it a website has to warn me before setting a cookie on my computer, but it's okay for anyone to record me at any time without my consent?  Makes absolutely no sense.


I guess you have to choose between protection and privacy these days...

Jai Singh
Jai Singh

SFPD needs this!! Police in Portland, Maine use this. How effective? I don't know.

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