In December 2016 the San Diego City Council approved its Smart Streetlights Program. Originally envisioned as a way to save energy costs by switching from high energy bulbs to LED streetlights that can be programmed and managed individually from a central software platform, this system when fully installed will save the city a minimum of $125,000 per month.
The 8,000 new streetlights should be in place by the summer of 2020. In addition, 4,200 of these locations will also carry CityIQ sensor nodes containing cameras, gunshot detection and environmental data collection capabilities (temperature, humidity, barometric pressure). These sensors are being installed primarily in downtown and heavily trafficked areas.
According to the city, the purpose of these sensor nodes is to monitor traffic flow, parking availability, and pedestrian traffic so as to assist programmers in efficient planning for the future. Additionally, they provide coverage in high-density public areas to assist authorities in solving crimes caught on camera.
Some groups are raising privacy concerns. Chief among them is CAIR’s San Diego chapter. CAIR is a Muslim activist organization keen on using the legal system (or simply the threat of lawsuits) to advance the cause of Islam in America. It is quick to play the victim card, portraying Muslims as innocent targets of bigotry, hate crimes or even government oppression. In this case, CAIR – San Diego claims that the City of San Diego has purposely placed these sensors close to mosques so as to monitor them illegally and gather data on the activities of Muslims in the area.
On September 15th (and updated on the 19th), Dustin Craun, Executive Director of CAIR San Diego, wrote an article with the rather incendiary and misleading title, San Diego Streetlights Target Communities of Color in Unprecedented use of Technology in the United States. It’s misleading because other cities are also moving toward “smart streetlights” (Cleveland, Philadelphia and Atlanta are three cities already using or budgeting for this technology presently) and so such usage is not unprecedented, and it is incendiary because there is no evidence of racism (targeting communities of color) in the article, nor is there any concern for such communities per se, only for those attending the 11 mosques within city limits.
Craun produces street maps showing where updated streetlights and/or sensors are being deployed in relation to mosque locations, claiming that the mosques are being targeted for surveillance. The facts do not back his claims.
Of the eleven mosques, eight are more than 200 feet (some more than 600 feet) from any sensor. Two are over 100 feet from a sensor, and only one looks to be within 100 feet of a sensor. This is important information to know because the city specifications note that a sensor’s cameras can only record over an oval area of some 120 to 180 feet around the sensor, enough to cover intersections, parking and pedestrian movements in affected areas. (This means that locations more than 90 feet from a sensor are beyond its reach.) Additionally, the cameras are fixed, having no pan, tilt or zoom capabilities. Further, the system is equipped with software that automatically blocks private property from view. Lastly, the software contains no license plate reader or facial recognition capabilities. All data recorded remains in the camera’s local memory for 5 days before being erased. In case of crime, police must request camera data within that period, or it is irretrievable.
At most, one mosque might be within the video reach of a CityIQ sensor, but since all private property is automatically obscured by the operative software, the mosque would be blacked out onscreen.
None of this matters to Dustin Craun, who bemoans the fact that Muslims are targeted for surveillance far more frequently than any other group in America. He never bothers to ask the question why this might be. Instead, he assumes a conspiracy of hatred, ignorance and bigotry on the part of the U.S. and local governments intended to harrass and demean Muslims. Even though he knows that the facts do not support his claims of “counter-intelligence surveillance”, Craun continues to promote the lie that Muslims in San Diego are innocent and helpless victims of an antagonistic Big Brother bureaucracy. He writes:
When asked about who designed this platform and why they would be surrounding the majority of the Mosques in the city, the cities [sic] sustainability department and police department would not answer this question.
Perhaps this is because they were dumbfounded by a question with no objective basis in reality — those departments never considered the location of the mosques in the planning process, but made their determinations based on major intersections, traffic flow, pedestrian safety and high crime locations. Craun, however, is convinced that mosque surveillance is at the top of the city’s list of concerns.
In a news clip provided by News8 San Diego, Craun is recorded on camera saying the following [picks up at 1:21 into the clip]:
They can look at every car that enters, everyone that enters and leaves those mosques. They can create data, profiles about our populations, about who’s at our mosques most frequently.
That last sentence was of particular interest to me: “They can create data, profiles…about who’s at our mosques most frequently.” Why should frequency of mosque attendance be of particular concern to authorities? And why would Craun mention this (I assume naively)? Because Craun knows what law enforcement agencies know, that increasing frequency of mosque attendance is a common sign of developing radicalization. Not all frequent attenders turn out to be terrorists in the making, but all Islamic terrorists grow in their radicalism by spending as much time as they can at the mosque, learning the fundamental beliefs and practices of Muhammad and his committed jihadis.
I served as a Christian pastor for 33 years, and can say that I would have been glad to have a CityIQ sensor across the street from any of my churches over that time period. Our congregations have nothing to hide. It never would have entered my mind to be concerned that authorities might want to note our “most frequent attenders.” If they did, my assumption would be that they were looking to thank such people for being model citizens in the community. How telling it is that CAIR San Diego Executive Director Dustin Craun frets over the possibility that the most frequent Muslim attendees at the city’s eleven mosques might be especially surveilled. If they have nothing to hide, they have no reason to worry. But the fact of the matter is that no such surveillance is possible or even intended through the Smart Streetlights program of San Diego. This is all just a tactic to create a sympathetic hearing in the minds of clueless Americans to drive home the propaganda that Islam is a peaceful religion under attack by bullies and haters.
One last thing. Craun attempts to buttress his complaint against “spying” by citing a portion of the only Qur’anic verse dealing with this subject, Sura 49:12. The text he quotes indeed says, “Do not spy.” In his commentary about how this applies to the present matter, Craun implies that by their wrongful actions the city leaders are creating an atmosphere of mutual suspicion such that “… we will never be able to join together in unity to fight against the forces who create fear about our diverse communites [sic].” The use of these CityIQ sensor nodes, he wrongly infers, is prohibited by the Qur’an,
What Craun fails to note (or at least admit) is that this passage only forbids Muslims from spying on other Muslims. Here’s the whole verse:
O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.
Speaking to Muslims (“you who have believed”), Allah commands that they not spy on or engage in backbiting each other. The assumption that this applies to how Muslims are to treat infidels, or more importantly in this case, how infidels are to treat Muslims, is not legitimate. To find out how Muhammad felt about spying on disbelievers, we must turn to the Hadith and biographies. There we discover that the prophet felt no compunction over spying on his enemies. Frequently he sent his companions out to surveil potential or actual enemies, or to pretend to befriend non-Muslims so as to gain information from them or cause them to let down their guard before an assassination attempt. Bukhari 5.59.495, 325, 412 and 4.52.281 provide a few accounts of such behavior by the “perfect man,” whom all Muslims are to emulate.
So, “Do not spy,” is a Qur’anic command that applies only to Muslims toward other Muslims. Even if the Smart Streetlights program were engaging in spying, Sura 49:12 would have no relevance to this matter. Presumably, if Muhammad thought it wise to keep a surreptitious eye on potential enemies, U.S. authorities have every right to do the same. And given the circumstances of the last two decades, where Muslims worldwide have been the perpetrators of the vast majority of terrorist attacks, until Muslim communities can demonstrate they have purged jihadi ideology from their communities and their Islam, and can live in harmony with those around them, we would be fools not to keep out eyes open and alert.