President Piñera presents a new drone surveillance program

SANTIAGO – President Sebastián Piñera presented a new mobile security program. It will monitor Metropolitan region streets with both drone and fixed cameras. Supporters claim the program will make the streets safer; opponents condemn it as a gross invasion of privacy.

On March 18, President Sebastián Piñera presented a new security program, called Televigilancia Móvil (Mobile Tele-vigilance), which will use drones with high definition cameras and infrared capacity to monitor Metropolitan region streets.

The program is part of the citizen security plan known as #CalleSegura (Safe Street). Initially, it will use eight drones, all piloted by Carabineros de Chile police. These devices will be connected to a central monitoring system managed by the Metropolitan region.

Officials have been testing the system since December 2018, but it was not officially inaugurated until last Monday.

According to InfoDefensa, the Drones Section of the Carabineros Air Police Division will operate the system the first three months. After that, management will be handed over to a private company.

Peace and security for Chileans’ homes?

Piñera says the government supports the program because it “is our duty to do everything in our power to bring more peace and security to Chileans’ homes and fight crime with more force, will, and efficiency.” 

Apart from the surveillance drones, the program includes 154  fixed cameras, “plus 90 that are on the way”; seven number plate readers, “plus 10 on the way”; and 4 monitoring centers.

According to the Undersecretary of Crime Prevention, Katherine Martorell, as reported in La Tercera newspaper, “This is a change that we need to make because today we have a context with a lot of technology also in the way in which crimes are committed.

Just a “populist” maneuver?

Outside the government, the mobile vigilance program has numerous critics. They say it won’t reduce crime or increase safety; it will only invade people’s privacy.

Eduardo Vergara, Director of the Citizen Security Area of Chile 21, told Chile Today, “There is no evidence to suggest the use of surveillance technology, and particularly drones, have any impact when used in public space.” Vergara added that “the evidence shows us that these surveillance devices generate a positive space when used in closed spaces, such as shopping centers, supermarkets. But in public space, [such technology] does not work.”

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Vergara also said that the evidence indicates that “the disproportionate use of this technology causes a displacement of crimes, instead of a decrease.” By way of example, Vergara pointed out that while violent crime drops by 29% in districts such as Vitacura, it increases by 29% in districts such as Pudahuel.

Finally, Vergara suggested that this measure is just a “populist” maneuver because crime is not solved “using drones,” and emphasized that “Chile has a lot to do in terms of legislation and regulation regarding the use of these technologies,” before it should start using them.

Domingo Lovera, an academic at Diego Portales University and a member of the Human Rights Center of the university’s law school, told La Tercera that the use of drones involves people’s privacy and added, “The type of data that the drones can collect, according to the current regulations of the data law is sensitive.”

Legal and constitutional issues?

The criticisms aren’t limited to the program’s efficacy and privacy concerns. The program also involves facial recognition, and that has generated an additional debate.

María Paz Canales, Executive Director of the NGO Derechos Digitales, in an interview with T13 broadcaster, was adamant that the use of facial recognition was “illegal, that’s for sure.” She also added that it was not only illegal but “unconstitutional.”

Minister of the Interior Andrés Chadwick said “we disagree with these opinions, because we think that the main duty and responsibility of the state, and that our Constitution indicates, is to give security to people.

Whatever the case may be, the program is expanding to other regions

Piñera announced that later in 2019 the mobile vigilance program will be launched in the Valparaíso, Biobío, Coquimbo, and La Araucanía regions and that in 2020 it will be expanding throughout the country.

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