ACLU-SDIC Expresses Privacy Concerns About Drone Surveillance Technology

The following testimony was presented at the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods committee meeting on Wednesday, December 5, 2018.

Good Morning Chairman Cate and Councilmembers,

My name is Chloe Triplett, I am a policy advocate with the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

The ACLU believes that privacy is a fundamental civil right, even in the digital age.  

We defend against the “surveillance state” by challenging government surveillance practices; potential violations of our rights to privacy, free speech, due process and assembly; and the criminalization of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, migrants and activists disproportionately targeted by surveillance. 

Drones have beneficial uses, including in search-and-rescue missions, scientific research, mapping, and more. However, if deployed or developed without proper civic engagement, regulation and oversight, drones equipped with facial recognition software, infrared technology, and speakers capable of monitoring personal conversations can cause unprecedented invasions of our privacy rights.  

These are issues that need to be explored and explained by the City.  

While we understand that San Diego is already a part of this pilot program, the public is best served when the impact of such technologies on our lives is understood BEFORE launching a pilot, rather than in the middle of an active program like the one being discussed today.  

This is at least the second item that has come before the Council in recent weeks that raised concerns about the type of surveillance capabilities the City of San Diego is considering acquiring.

Given the limited documentation provided on this item, the ACLU has the following questions:

1. What privacy protections are in place for information collected?
2. How will this information be shared with other agencies, including federal immigration enforcement agencies?  

Concept 1 is about international transportation and lists the need to complete international agreements and get consent of multiple federal agencies. Recent events have shown the vulnerability of immigrants to over-surveillance and over-policing. It is important we understand how this technology will be used in our border region.

a. What agreements are being referenced?
b. With what federal agencies will this project interact?
3. Is there a use policy developed for the drone?  If yes, when will it be available to be reviewed by the public?

Mr. Chairman, the ACLU asks this committee to get answers to these questions from staff today.

Thank you for your attention and careful consideration of our concerns.