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Board approves limits for terror surveillance

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“[The legislation would protect people’s] right not to be investigated because of their skin color and their religious practice.” — Supervisor Jane Kim
  • “[The legislation would protect people’s] right not to be investigated because of their skin color and their religious practice.” — Supervisor Jane Kim

Protection against FBI surveillance for people not suspected of criminal activity in San Francisco was approved Tuesday, but the years-in-the-making effort could be shot down by a mayoral veto.

As in other cities, the Police Department has a contract with the FBI for involvement in the Joint Terrorism Task Force. But the relationship has faced criticism. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California says the public needs more access to task force activities.

Supervisor Jane Kim’s legislation, approved Tuesday in a 6-5 vote, would ensure the contract is open for public review and task force activity is reported annually. It also would require police to adhere to local and state privacy laws when assisting with federal counterterrorism investigations.

Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, Carmen Chu, Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen opposed it.

The proposal stems from the discovery of a 2007 agreement “that would have allowed police officers to conduct secret investigations without reasonable suspicion.”

Last week, the ACLU said it obtained documents showing, “The San Francisco FBI conducted a ‘mosque outreach’ program through which it compiled intelligence on American Muslim religious organizations and their leaders’ and congregants’ constitutionally-protected beliefs and activities, without any suspicion of wrongdoing.”

Police Chief Greg Suhr has opposed the legislation, saying it threatens The City’s future partnership with the feds when the existing contract comes up for renewal — if the FBI won’t agree to the requirements of the local law — and that would mean the loss of real-time crime-fighting data.

Kim said the legislation is “the best policy” and it would protect people’s “right not to be investigated because of their skin color and their religious practice.”

Mayor Ed Lee has 10 days to issue a veto. It takes eight supervisor votes to override a veto.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com