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Nowhere To Hide: Few Public Places Without Surveillance Cameras In San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – The phrase "smile, you're on candid camera," is in need of a 2015 makeover. In modern day San Francisco, it should be, "smile you're always on camera."

"There are not a lot of spots left where there's not some sort of private or public surveillance camera," said Nadia Kayyali of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The number of times a day the average San Franciscan appears on a monitor somewhere is staggering.

"Dozens of times depending on your routine and where your travels take you," said Sgt. Michael Andraychak of the San Francisco Police Department.

Kayyali said the cinematic notion of hiding in plain sight has gone the way of the dodo bird.

"The idea that you can sort of meet in a public place and quietly have a conversation that we're sort of accustomed to from spy movies, that is really not realistic anymore," Kayyali told KPIX 5.

In fact, the EFF said street level surveillance is far outpacing NSA electronic monitoring of emails and keystrokes.

"In some ways, maybe more privacy online, depending on what it is you're doing than in a public place, it's definitely something people should be thinking about," Kayyali said.

It's not big brother conspiracy hyperbole. "Those cameras are running typically 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Andraychak said.

Most of the surveillance cameras are private.

Interns with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office spent the summer walking the city and documenting cameras in plain view.

"I was actually blown away by the number of cameras," said Frank Carrubba of the DA's office. "I thought it was going to be one or two or three a city block. The numbers are huge."

Every yellow dot on this map represents a private camera, more than 3,000 in the Tenderloin alone. Much of the city hasn't been mapped yet.

San Francisco Surveillance
Map of private surveillance cameras located in plain view, in and around San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. (CBS)

The district attorney's office is asking San Franciscans to register their cameras online, so police officers know where to look in case of a crime.

"That footage absolutely has value in protecting victims in San Francisco, absolutely has value in deterring crime and isn't something we should just ignore," Carrubba said.

The EFF said that arguement is a slippery slope. "It's something that happened slowly and people didn't really think about the implications of it," Kayyali said.

The DA's office said its database is simply a list and that city ordinance precludes it from monitoring the cameras, both public and private, and obtaining video requires a subpoena.

"We actually have no direct access to the footage whatsoever," Carrubba said.

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