Brian A. Weikel

Volume 75, Issue 2, 505-554

Surveillance cameras are increasingly used by the public and law enforcement to prevent and

prosecute criminal activity. Individuals and companies can grant law enforcement access to

private cameras for both live monitoring feeds and recorded footage, thereby creating a quasipublic

network of private cameras. According to the third-party doctrine, the government can

access all information from these surveillance cameras without a subpoena or warrant and

without infringing upon Fourth Amendment privacy protections. However, as technology

advances and the prevalence of surveillance cameras rises, this per se rule fails to account for

one’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the public and private spheres.

This Note examines the 2022 San Francisco ordinance, which authorizes the government to use

private cameras in a wide variety of circumstances. Specifically, it reviews the ordinance through

the mosaic theory, whose proponents champion as a necessary correction to the erosion of Fourth

Amendment rights and whose opponents condemn as doctrinally flawed and impractical to

administer. To address the theory’s doctrinal shortcomings, this Note reviews the historical

development of privacy protections with each new technology considered by the Supreme Court.

To demonstrate how the theory may be applied to other technologies, this Note analyzes the circuit

court split on whether the warrantless use of pole cameras constitutes a search under the Fourth

Amendment. Pole cameras serve as a useful proxy for private cameras under the ordinance.

Ultimately, this Note recommends that the San Francisco ordinance be modified to safeguard an

individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy by adding a notice requirement with camera

stickers and adjacent signs, requiring police officers to provide camera owners with a brief

descriptive justification for each requested video, and limiting the duration of access to live and

historical feeds for each event.