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How Citizen Surveillance Ate San Francisco

Wired: “…In San Francisco there’s always another video. New York and London are known for being blanketed with government-run CCTV coverage, but surveillance here is different: It is as privatized as it is pervasive, a culture of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, at scale. In the city where Nextdoor’s offices sit right in the gritty Tenderloin, sharing Ring cam footage of porch thieves is a bonding exercise between neighbors who’ve never met. All over town, local nonprofits oversee neighborhood-wide networks of cameras funded in part by donations from crypto entrepreneur Chris Larsen. (“That’s the winning formula,” Larsen told The New York Times in 2020. “Pure coverage.”) Platoons of Waymo self-driving cars circulate the streets like Pac-Man ghosts, gathering up videofeeds that cops snag for evidence. You can watch a resident’s live cam to see who’s on the corner of Hyde and Ellis, right now. True-crime video has become San Francisco’s civic language, the common vocabulary of local TV news broadcasts, the acid punch line to a million social media posts. The feeds intensified during the pandemic, when commuterless streets erupted with synthetic opioid use and property crime. Since then, the city has found itself hobbled through successive breakdowns—a police shortage, a 34 percent office vacancy rate, a federal injunction severely limiting the city from clearing homeless camps. No one seems to be solving San Francisco’s problems, the feeling goes, so by G-d, people are going to film the dysfunction and post the footage…”

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