Chula Vista, CA — Inside San Diego's metropolitan area, the second largest city, home to some 275,000 residents, has made the history books. Chula Vista hasn't cured cancer or discovered perpetual energy, instead, their mark on history will be a dark one as they become the first city in America to be completely monitored by spy drones.
“On a per capita basis, they're probably the most or one of the most surveilled cities in the country,” said Brian Hofer, executive director of the Oakland-based privacy advocacy group Secure Justice. “Pretty much the minute you walk outside your front door and move about your daily life, you're going to be tagged and tracked by some law enforcement agency, even though you've likely never been suspected of any wrongdoing.”
Chula Vista's drone program didn't come to fruition over night. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies coordinated with with Chinese drone manufacturers and unscrupulous actors in Big Tech and have implemented the program over the course of several years.
"The City of San Diego’s Homeland Security Department is collaborating with more than 20 regional organizations to implement the IPP. In addition to EDC, partners include: City of Chula Vista, Cape, AirMap, Qualcomm, AT&T, California Governor’s Military Council, California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GoBiz), Uber, UC San Diego Health, Intel, GE Ventures, and others," the city announced in 2018.
In 2020, as fearful citizens begged the government for safety that never came, they willingly accepted this egregious invasion of privacy.
The Free Thought Project reported on this problem in 2020 and since then, it has gotten much worse. Just like the Chinese authorities, police in California equipped the drones with speakers to tell people what to do during the pandemic.
"The department is considering one strategy to use drone-mounted speakers to communicate and reach vulnerable populations in inaccessible areas of the city, like large urban canyons with homeless encampments," the Chula Vista Police Department said in a press release when they began to spy on citizens 24/7. "Unsheltered persons are particularly vulnerable to the current pandemic, and their safety and welfare is important to stopping the spread of the disease."
The company who manufactures the drones had no problem admitting the "Orwellian" nature of such a program.
“What we saw in China, and what we're probably going to see around the world, is using drones with cameras and loudspeakers to fly around to see if people are gathering where they shouldn't be, and telling them to go home,” Spencer Gore, chief executive of U.S.-based drone company Impossible Aerospace, said. “It seems a little Orwellian, but this could save lives.”
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As we quickly learned, however, outside was the safest place to be and your chances of catching covid from someone outdoors are basically zero. But did government reverse course and end the program after learning these facts? Of course not.
Instead, after yelling at citizens over loud speakers mounted on drones in March of 2020, exactly one year later and the entire city would be completely surveilled by the drone program, marking a first in American history.
In March 2021, CVPD again made history as the first in the United States to obtain Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization to launch from anywhere in the city. CVPD formed more great partnerships with Southwestern College and Ayers Hotel in the eastern parts of the city to add two additional launch sites. With the addition of the two new launch sites, DFR now has city-wide coverage and can cover much of the geographical area of Chula Vista.
After authorities touted the drones as a covid safety net, police then shifted gears and now claim they aid in helping to "de-escalate otherwise unknown situations."
“Officers have the ability then to see, ‘Is this an armed individual? Is this just someone pacing in the street? Do I really need to respond into the area or would it be better for me to stay back?'” Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said.
On top of the disturbing Orwellian nature of this program, there's also a major problem with the data on these drones — such a large one, in fact, that the Pentagon won't touch them. In 2017, the Department of Defense flagged the DJI drones over security concerns, stating that “DJI Science and Technology is providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”
“People don't realize the depths of Chinese espionage and the fact that they use any opportunity,” said Jim Lewis, a researcher at the DC-based, bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We face the biggest espionage battle we've ever had with China. The way people engage in espionage has changed. It's moved largely to technology and digital devices.”
As we've seen with other Orwellian moves like license plate scanners and surveillance cameras, this drone program will not remain solely in Chula Vista and other states have already begun similar programs.