Supervisors ban illegal SFPD spying, but veto threat looms

Sup. Jane Kim addresses activists who support a ban on SFPD participation in FBI surveillance that violates state and local laws
Steven T. Jones

The Board of Supervisors today gave initial approval to legislation that would prevent the San Francisco Police Department from working with the FBI to spy on law-abiding citizens, but the 6-5 vote wouldn’t be enough to overcome a possible veto by Mayor Ed Lee, which would take eight votes.

SFPD officials have said the measure is unnecessary because Police Chief Greg Suhr and the Police Commission last year approved a Department General Order requiring officers to obey state and local privacy laws, which they say supercedes the MOU that the SFPD secretly signed with the FBI in 2007 placing local officers under federal control. That secret document was unearthed last year by the ACLU, causing a local furor.

But supervisors who support the measure and the broad coalition that is supporting it, ranging from the Asian Law Caucus to groups representing Muslims who have been targeted with federal surveillance since 9/11, say it is important to enshrine these protections in city law and they don’t understand the SFPD resistance to doing so.

“If this is that important to us, if we believe in these values, then it deserves to be codified in our laws,” said Sup. Jane Kim, the measure’s main sponsor. “I was shocked to discover our city entered into a secret agreement with the FBI,” said President David Chiu, adding that while he trusts Suhr to oppose illegal spying, this legislation was about ensuring successive chiefs and members of the Police Commission uphold that standard.

Sups. Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, and Carmen Chu voted against the measure, but Wiener was the only one who tried to explain his vote, much to the disappointment of the large coalition that showed up to support the legislation.

“This has been a tough issue for me and I’ve struggled with it,” Wiener said, sharing Chiu’s outrage over the secret memo and his position on the government spying on citizens who aren’t suspected of a crime. “We have our own local policies that SFPD officers are required to comply with,” Wiener said. “The question for me is whether this needs to be legislated.”

The legislation is set to receive final approval at next week's board meeting, after which Mayor Lee will have 10 days to sign it or issue the second veto of his run as mayor (the first, also controversial, was over legislation to close a loophole in the Health Care Security Ordinance that allows businesses to at the end of the year raid employee health savings accounts they set up to comply with city law requiring employee health coverage).

Before the vote, as he was leaving his monthly Question Time session with the board, I asked Lee about his position on the SFPD spying measure and he said, “I’ll be getting an update. The chief who I appointed has been working directly with the supervisor on this and he’ll be reporting to me all his efforts soon so I can make a determination. I’d like to have input for our Police Commission as well before announcing what we’re going to do about it.”

After the vote, I asked Kim about the threat of a veto and she said, “It’s definitely a concern and we as a community need to think about what our next steps are.” Activists said they plan to lobby supervisors who opposed the measure and the Mayor’s Office. “Talk to your communities, let them know the supervisors who supported it and the supervisors who didn’t support it,” Fairuz Abdullah, former president of the Bay Area Association of Muslim Lawyers, told the group of about two dozen. “This is a great showing, but it needs to continue.”


laws? WTF is the issue here. If you obey the law you NEVER have anything to fear.

Posted by Anon-y mouse on Mar. 13, 2012 @ 5:39 pm

Here's a long and well-written answer to your tiresome question about why law-abiding people don't simply accept a police state:

As for your first question, since when do local and state laws not apply to our local cops? Answer: when we cut secret deals to put them under control of the FBI, which has a long, sordid history of gross civil rights abuses. Read your history, little mouse. Start by Googling: COINTELPRO

Posted by steven on Mar. 13, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

If Jack Bauer wants some information about a San Francisco citizen he's going to get it. If it is called a matter of national security then any local SF Ordinance is going to be dealt with a wink and a nod:

Jack Bauer: Listen you little SF Police Chief....terrorists from Sweden are about to blow up the Warming Hut in Crissy Field unless you get me the information on this guy.

SF Chief: Look I can't give you access to that but the guy does have an outstanding parking ticket that I could look into. And then I might be able to leave the information on my desk tomorrow at, let's say...4pm?

Posted by Troll on Mar. 13, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

You can't make something doubly-illegal.

Jane Kim is, as usual, looking for an issue to increase her profile because she wants to run for mayor in the next 6-8 years.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

FBI agents conduct surveillance that is illegal under state and local laws, the issue is whether we're going to let our local cops join in these activities.

Posted by steven on Mar. 13, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

Is it only people of color who face spying by the cops? How broad could a coalition have been if it did not appear to involve 49% of the population who gets spied on for environmental, peace, social justice and Occupy activism? Steven, were there any non-people of color organizations involved in the coalition, were they just not reported?

Posted by marcos on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

The word you are groping for is "white".

Posted by Anon-y mouse on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

Marc, the coalition has been endorsed by many groups (, but its core activists do seem to come from the Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities. Perhaps trying to broaden it out to include environmental groups, Occupy, anarchist, socialist, and other groups that have been targetted for FBI surveillance might be a good strategy. Neither our skin color nor our political beliefs (even radical ones) should lead us to be treated as an enemy of the state.

Posted by steven on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 11:29 am

Obviously he's not deemed a sufficiently dangerous or effective subversive element.

That's gotta hurt someone who derives 100% of his identity from whining about everything publicly.

So he's decided it's because of racism i.e. because he's white (or rather, "a non-person of non-color" as he would put it).

Posted by Anonymous on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 11:58 am

I understand that, Steven, but if the goal is to build a vetoproof majority, then organizers should need to appeal to the full range of those targeted by cop spying. If memory serves, the SFPD got slapped down in the 1990s for spying on folks supporting Palestinian self determination for Israel's lobbyists and those activists were not middle eastern.

The fact is that ethnicity, national origin and political beliefs and actions ARE the reasons why cops spy on civilians and any successful campaign would reach out to build the broadest possible coalition. Otherwise, that just furthers the progressive trap that the only legitimate causes are the causes of "the most vulnerable."

Posted by marcos on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

to gather the best quality info you need. If you're concerned about violence directed towards Jews or Jewish targets it would make sense that you focus your efforts on those who have expressed the most vehemence towards Jews and/or towards Israel - groups with a radically Islamist or white nationalist identity would be the best place to start.

There's a reason the police aren't interested in the elderly bridge club in Sausolito when it comes to antisemitic violence.

Tell me Marcos. If the police were to focus their spying efforts on followers of the Asatru and Odin movements, both of which are quasi-religions strongly associated with the Aryan Brotherhood and other white nationalist groups in the prisons, would you take offense at that?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

conjure up a broad alliance of the vulnerable is to do that you have to go down the route of speculating on a "vast right-wing conspiracy". As you note, Marcos probably would not have an issue wih surveillance on Nazi's or the KKK. He is conerned only with his own identity groups, even though he claims to want to broaden the "consensus".

The cops are always going to keep an eye on subversive elements and truthfully most voters are happy with that. While if anything, 9/11 increased legal surveillance far more than the supes can ever stop it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

vote to ban illegal immigrants?

If no, then what is their whine about?

Posted by matlock on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 10:02 pm
Posted by Patrick Monk RN on Mar. 14, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

Everyone has their right to privacy, even those who have been law abiding citizens all their life. It is already quite a debacle when the SFPD secretly signed an agreement with the FBI, but it seems they still want to spy on normal citizens. People who value their privacy should let their supervisors know what they think.

Posted by S Austen on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 12:18 am