The City Council of Chula Vista, California (in the San Diego metro area) announced a new policy governing how city law enforcement can use technology to protect residents from data collected by surveillance devices. The policy, developed by a city task force after police departments began using automated license plate readers in 2020, will now go into effect. However, this new policy directly affects Chula Vista’s signature drone program. The goal of the policy is to require that any type of technology that city officials and law enforcement intend to use be reviewed by the task force, which will then determine the impact the technology will have on the public and city systems, as well as on the privacy of residents.
The task force is made up of technologists, financial auditors, public safety professionals and government transparency activists. To ease the review, all technologies will fall into one of the following categories: general-purpose technology, including email and cell phones; sensitive technology, such as drones and traffic-sign cameras; and surveillance technology, such as license plate readers. The highest level of oversight will apply to surveillance technology.
If the technology and its use are approved by the task force, city managers will be required to report at least every two years on the technology’s use, any adverse effects, and the status of the data collected. The goal is to hold government officials accountable. So, where are drones headed? Well, they will be bound by the policy (as above), but the policy does allow the city manager or city council to waive certain elements of the policy “when it is not possible or feasible in emergency or other circumstances” due to the city Other similar policies and task forces in Chula Vista are likely to continue to emerge as residents question the scope and oversight of surveillance by government entities using new technologies, including drones.