Watching the Watchers – A Field Guide for Police Surveillance in San Diego County

by on September 12, 2019 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, San Diego

Editordude: When I saw the article in City Beat, I thought, wow, our old friend Dave Maass was back in town. But no such luck. The OB Rag staff had a warm heart for Dave when he first arrived in our town – being as he didn’t know anyone. Dave didn’t end up staying around very long and ended up moving to the Bay Area and getting involved with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see below).  So we just had to post the beginning of this very interesting survey or “guide” on police surveillance in our county.

Maass teamed up with Christian Romero and Madison Vialpando to pull this critique together of all the ways San Diego County law enforcement have in their toolbox for surveillance purposes. They list them and explain them; Automated License Plate Readers, Body-Worn Cameras, Face Recognition, Cell-Site Simulators drones , smart streetlights, gun shot detection, Private-Public Camera Sharing and somethings called Fusion Center and Palantir.

by Dave Maass, Christian Romero, Madison Vialpando / City Beat / September 4, 2019

San Diego County is a perfect storm for the surveillance state. Between the busiest border crossing in the United States, a large military presence, a major port, a booming tech and cybersecurity industry, and elected officials who campaign on government innovation, it’s a wonder that San Diego has yet to become a Big Brother hellscape.

Or has it? Perhaps the process was so gradual that no one noticed.

Cops across the region carry mobile devices for face recognition. “Smart” streetlights equipped with video cameras have blanketed San Diego neighborhoods. Squad cars hoover up license plate scans while on patrol. The truth is, law enforcement agencies in San Diego County have been early adopters of a wide range of advanced surveillance technologies—body-worn cameras, drones, cell-site simulators—often with weak safeguards and, until recently, little-to-no input from the public.

To provide a counterbalance, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for civil liberties in the digital age, is partnering with the University of Nevada Reno’s journalism school to compile an inventory of surveillance technology used by police in communities around the country. We started with counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, paying special attention to San Diego due to its size and its pattern of aggressive technology acquisition. Dozens of students scoured the Internet, aggregating news articles, press releases, meeting minutes, and public records.

We have compiled this guide to surveillance as a counterbalance: Police are watching the public, so the public must watch right back.

Automated License Plate Readers 

Automated license plate readers (ALPRs) are networks of cameras used to track the movements of vehicles. Police attach cameras to patrol cars or to fixed locations, like highway overpasses, to amass a searchable database that can reveal a driver’s movement. Police also create “hot lists” of plates of wanted vehicles and people to get real-time alerts whenever the cars are photographed by ALPRs.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department operates an ALPR network and shares the data with other agencies through ARJIS (the Automated Regional Justice Information System). Other agencies contribute data to the system, which is retained for one year.

Many agencies in San Diego County operate their own ALPR systems.

For the balance of this article, please go here.

Graphic is a Photo illustration by Hugh D’Andrade/Dave Maass

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

thequeenisalizard September 13, 2019 at 8:39 am

I’d post a reply to this article, but I don’t want the popo to read it.


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