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Surveillance Technology

San Diego council committee unanimously approves ordinances targeting surveillance technology

Photo courtesy of John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune

A City Council committee on Wednesday unanimously approved two proposed ordinances geared at governing surveillance technologies in the city, an action sparked by sustained pushback from activists and others who were surprised and upset last year when it was revealed that San Diego had quietly installed cameras on streetlights throughout the city.

Lilly Irani, an associate professor at UC San Diego (and Design Lab faculty) who specializes in the ethics of technology, called the vote “a win for better governance in the long term.”

Irani helped draft the ordinances and assisted the organized opposition dubbed the TRUST San Diego coalition, which focuses on responsible surveillance in the region. The coalition was born out of concerns about one specific technology — so-called smart streetlights — and ultimately landed a seat at the table to draft the proposals.

“Without Councilmember Monica Montgomery championing this... there would be no table,” Irani said.
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Drones Law Enforcement

Chula Vista PD Approved For Broader Use Of Drones In Law Enforcement

Photo courtesy of Shalina Chatlani

The Chula Vista Police Department has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to broaden its use of drones.

Still, some academics say drones can be seen as a form of surveillance. And that having a video doesn’t necessarily mean that officers are making neutral decisions.

"Say you’re getting a call from someone acting erratic … like what would a drone be able to see that would discern a person screaming and waving their hands around as someone who needs intervention by the police, versus a mental health team?" said Lilly Irani, a professor of communication and technology at UC San Diego (and Design Lab faculty).

Even if officers are using video to see whether a situation is dangerous, human bias doesn’t just go away, she said.

"OK, so what type of visual symbols are you going to look for to discern the difference between dangerous and nondangerous?" Irani said.
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Smart Streetlights

Community members call for end to ‘Smart Streetlights’ in San Diego

KUSI NEWS Interviews Design Lab Faculty Lilly Irani

More than a dozen community groups are calling on the City of San Diego to turn off thousands of cameras positioned on streetlights around San Diego.

The “Smart Streetlights” were approved by the San Diego City Council in December 2016, and there are currently 4,700 installed according to the city’s website.

The cameras collect real-time data including video and audio, which the city says helps save money and increase public safety. However, activists called the technology a major privacy and civil rights concern.

City officials have said that these streetlights are not being used for spying.
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Smart Streetlights Data San Diego

San Diegans Shouldn’t Be Lab Rats for Innovation

Voice of San Diego Editorial by Design Lab Faculty Lilly Irani

In 2016, San Diego installed thousands of General Electric cameras, microphones and telecommunication devices on streetlights around the city. The City Council approved the project with little investigation, looking no further than the city’s casting of the project as environmental “sensors” and “nodes” that would analyze traffic and the atmosphere.

The city finally held town halls this year to explain the program to communities, but by then it was too late. Once installed, technologies of this type will outrun the uses for which they are designed and publicly justified. Over and over, researchers like myself have seen data creep — like mission creep — take hold as companies try to add value to data and monetize them.
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Tristian Harris STX Tech Society Interaction

To Really ‘Disrupt,’ Tech Needs to Listen to Actual Researchers

Wired Editorial by Design Lab Faculty Lilly Irani

THE STEREOTYPE OF the visionary male founder dominates Silicon Valley. The “move fast and break things” culture rewards those who announce promising new directions with confidence, often neglecting existing resources. It’s how the Valley has disrupted business and society for decades.

Earlier this month, Tristan Harris, cofounder of the Center for Humane Technologies, proposed a whole new field of study: "Society & Technology Interaction." The engineers building the technologies we all rely on, he argued, lack social and cultural knowledge. The problem: That well-established field already exists.
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