Surveillance balloons: How much are we willing to give up in order to feel safer?

by Digital Rights LAC on October 27, 2015

lac 2015 octubrej

That’s the big question behind new surveillance technology implemented by two Santiago City municipalities who are now being questioned for threatening, among other rights, against the neighbors privacy.

By Paula Jaramillo, Derechos Digitales researcher

“I can imagine, with a chill going down my spine, how clear my room can be seen. Not only during the day, because the camera has night vision too”. Stephanie Söffge is able to perfectly see the aerostatic balloon located mere 90 meters from her home´s window. Since the balloon was installed, she had to change her everyday life: “It has forced me to constantly close my windows and I’m not able to live my everyday tranquil life like I used to, I feel watched 24 hours a day, 7 days a week”.

Söffge suffers the consequences of surveillance aerostatic balloons located in Las Condesas and Lo Barnechea, military technology created in Israel and used on the Gaza strip and in the Mexico-US border. As one can conclude, is a highly intrusive measure: it posses a 360 degrees camera with night vision and laser pointer, capable of recognize a moving person in a distance of more than 1,5 kilometers, 24 hours a day.

By the way, in Chile, the majors of both municipalities had justified their usage to fight delinquency and reinforce vehicular transit surveillance.

This events makes us think that a discussion regarding privacy and safety must be made seriously and not fall under unsubstantiated arguments. Everyone has the right to a safe life. Should be the trespass of our privacy the price we must pay for it?

This serious discussion is essential in our countries, since most of the citizens are not fully aware of the vital importance of the right to privacy, even to the point to exchange it to the bright promise of better security, without noticing, that along with it we are making that our homes and streets transforms into a big open ceiling prison, being watch panoptically by strangers whose interests are unknown to us.

In this context, massive and indiscriminate surveillance measures should not be tolerated in and democratic State of law, under the risk of uncontrolled expansion without taking under account fundamental rights that are being hurt. That’s the reason why Derechos Digitales, along with two others pro human rights organizations in Chile, resorted to a writ of protection from Santiago City’s Appeals Court so it can be the legal system can determine, justify and reinforce the fundamental laws implemented.

The surveillance balloons will affect at least three constitutional rights: protection to private life, home inviolability and the right to property. Besides, on the appeal was stated how vulnerable the laws were in regards of personal data handling in Chile and its municipalities; as well as how arbitrary and controversial those measures are.

In this last point are concentrated aspects that goes from lack of proportion between the final goal -people’s safety and traffic surveillance via cameras that allow recording even inside homes-, to the implicit discrimination that it brings, considering factors such as the ones that makes the project pass and even the decision for the location of the devices (according socioeconomic indexes).

This is made worse by the fact that people in charge of the recording are not government officials and are not subject to specific obligations related to their jobs, especially worrying is the fact the absence of a confidentiality clause. It appears that she worst punishment in  case of act against fundamental rights of a person is the loss of their jobs, which is clearly not reasonable in comparison.

Public policies to fight against delinquency are an obligation to our authorities, but it also is that those policies adjust to the legal ruling without attacking our fundamental rights, allowing them to be seriously injured and without punishment. It’s time to demand for a serious debate when we talk about security, a debate that allows us to see privacy not as a nuisance but as a space that  allow us to freely develop our personality and individuality