San Diego Wants to Use Military-Grade Drones to Catch Speeders

By guest writer Joe Cadillic, of the Mass Privatel Blog

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Joe’s Mass Privatel Blog on December 3, 2020. Joe is one of the co-writers for the NMA’s Street Surveillance Blog.

The Voice of San Diego recently revealed how the city of San Diego secretly considered using military-grade drones to spy on motorists. According to the article, officials secretly kicked around the possibility of using General Atomics’ “SkyGuardian” drones (See YouTube Video Here) to ID and track speeding vehicles:

“Records obtained by Voice of San Diego show that the city’s Office of Homeland Security had been supportive of General Atomics, a local defense contractor, in its attempt to open the skies above San Diego to new forms of surveillance. They wound up talking last year about how police might benefit from putting a massive vehicle with a camera above the metro.”

Credit: Tomás Del Coro

They even went so far as to request that General Atomics make no mention of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) possibly using a 12,500-pound military drone for public safety use.

“Since SDPD is not involved in the public safety aspect of this project and IPP, they and the mayor’s office requested no inclusion/indication of public safety-specific use,” Harrison Andrew Pierce wrote.

The article detailed how General Atomics sent emails to city officials detailing how SkyGuardian could be used to inspect things like rail and power lines, monitor floods, and conduct maritime surveillance.

Four months ago, the nonprofit, independent media website Common Dreams detailed exactly how this would play out in the future. The reporters of A Persistent Eye in the Sky Coming to a City Near You? warned that allowing this type of technology used in overseas wars isn’t something that should happen in the US without a robust public debate.

This past September, Major General James Poss, the Air Force’s top intelligence officer, was preparing to join the FAA with plans to use SkyGuardian drones on the American public.

“This plan was ordered by Congress in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. It directed the Departments of Defense and Transportation to “develop a plan for providing expanded access to the national airspace for unmanned aircraft systems of the Department of Defense.”

“General Poss was one of nearly two dozen ex-military officers who, starting in 2010, were put into positions at the FAA to oversee drone integration research. With little public scrutiny, the plan has been moving forward ever since.”

The article cautioned why everyone should be concerned about law enforcement using military drones to monitor Americans.

“Back in 2017, military technology analysts were predicting that by 2025, drones similar to those used in Afghanistan and Iraq would be hovering above US cities, relaying high-resolution video of the movement of every citizen to police departments (and who knows who else). When there was public pushback to this police department drone use—even a pro-industry reporter called the idea dystopian—General Atomics changed the purpose of the flight from providing data to the police to mapping critical infrastructure in the San Diego region.”

If you think San Diego is an isolated incident, think again.

Every president (both Democratic and Republican) plus Congress since 2010 has not only enacted the US drone program but have expanded it.

Credit: Fibonacci Blue

The Custom and Border Patrol recently expanded its reach, for example, in using these drones to assist police in Minneapolis, San Antonio, and Detroit in the wake of protests against police brutality.

Over the past year, I have reported how police have begun using drones to monitor suspicious people and how some police departments use them to respond to 911 calls. And throughout, a disturbing pattern has emerged.

At first, law enforcement promises to only use drones in emergency circumstances like helping to locate a missing person or look for abducted children. Next, departments implement the use of drones to read vehicle license plates and monitor police protests without any explanation. Now they want to use them to catch speeders.

The questions I asked last month in my blog post about police drones responding to 911 calls are becoming more and more relevant with each passing day.

“What will happen to Americans’ privacy once police drones begin flying down our streets? Drones will fly over people’s yards while voyeuristic pilots invade everyone’s privacy. Was someone taking a shower or getting undressed in their window? Don’t worry—the police will have a real-time video of it. Was someone sunbathing in their backyard? The police will know.”

It is high time for Americans to demand that law enforcement keep their promise and only use drones in an emergency.

Joe Cadillic writes the Massprivatel Blog, which focuses on privacy, civil rights, and Homeland insecurity issues in the US and worldwide. He is also a co-writer on the NMA’s Street Surveillance Blog.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Here are some other Resources concerning Aerial Surveillance:

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