Muni's Super Bowl Non-Surveillance Cameras

Looking at you

Soon, more than 110 million pairs of eyes will be on San Francisco for the Super Bowl — and for attendees at Super Bowl City, the “fan village” taking over the foot of Market Street at the Embarcadero, extra eyes will be on them.

Over the past few weeks, Muni has quietly installed 25 cameras on the stretch of Market Street from First Street to the Ferry Building that will be shut to traffic from Jan. 23 to Feb. 12. (The fan village will host events, like an Alicia Keys concert, from Jan. 30 up until game day on Feb. 7).

The cameras, affixed to city-owned streetlight poles, were first noticed by leery, privacy-minded Twitter users who spread word of a creeping super surveillance state via the hashtag #SuperBowlSurveillance.

But these aren't security cameras — really. Rather, according to Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose, these are “traffic cameras,” installed as part of a nearly decade-long “intelligent” traffic improvement effort called “SF Go” that's seen more than 70 traffic monitoring cameras installed in other parts of the city since 2007, including on Mission Street and rush-hour hospots like Franklin and Gough streets.

These cameras don't record, Rose says — as per a city law that forbids recorded surveillance — and are meant to monitor traffic, not people. Further, they're linked to a control room at Muni headquarters at 1 South Van Ness Ave., not police headquarters.

However, they could still be used to keep an eye on things. They pan, tilt, and zoom, like a security camera (and their installation did not require public notice or Board of Supervisors approval).

They won't be the only cameras on hand for the Super Bowl, either: PG&E may also deploy “mobile cameras,” possibly to keep an eye on the power grid, according to the Department of Emergency Management (which says it has no access to Muni's cameras).

As for why Muni chose the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl to install traffic cameras that just happen to monitor areas closed to traffic? A coincidence. Either way, the world — and Muni — will be watching us.

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