San Diego Streetlights Target Communities of Color in Unprecedented use of Technology in the United States

Dustin Craun
Screen capture of the City of San Diegos homepage for the “Smart City” platform which includes the smart streetlights as shown in the above picture

Over the last eighteen years the American Muslim community has faced the largest counter intelligence program in the history of the United States. This surveillance today is made up of layers of information collected by local police departments working with customs and border patrol, ICE, and the FBI through the joint terrorism task force (JTTF). Mother Jones and Al Jazeera have published investigative reports about the 15,000 informants working with the FBI within Muslim communities across the country today.

On top of this lies an emerging technological surveillance state that turns normal street lights into surveillance hubs that can capture video, and audio and that could add license plate readers or facial recognition technology with simple software updates. The city council of San Diego in December of 2016 passed what the city calls, “the worlds largest smart city platform.” As a 2017 Reuters article stated, “San Diego’s city council approved the lighting, without discussion of potential privacy issues raised by the surveillance system.”

Majority communities of color including City Heights, San Ysidro, and Logan Heights have been covered with these streetlights through what the city said was funding from a grant from community block development grants.

Blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation focused on majority community of color neighborhoods, City Heights, and Logan Heights

EDIT 9/19/2019: Since publishing this story it’s become clear that the city of San Diego has two maps online with this data. One the original data set I used (data.sandiego.gov) on an official San Diego website, the city has since said this map is outdated and needs to be deleted. The second data set (sandiego.maps.arcgis.com) is not on an official San Diego city website, but is the correct data set according to the city. This map does not show the same level of surveillance coverage of Mosques as the original maps that were analyzed. For clarity purposes I have now included links to both sets of maps.


Almost three years after the approval of this platform, the city of San Diego held listening sessions this summer about these streetlights. The city of San Diego calls these streetlights “the world’s largest smart city platform.” When the streetlights are fully installed by the end of the year 8700 will have been upgraded to what the city calls “energy efficient models” and 4200 sensors will be installed in total.

When asked about who designed this platform and why they would be surrounding the majority of the Mosques in the city, the cities sustainability department and police department would not answer this question. Part of the confusion with this information is that there are multiple city websites with multiple data sets that show different information. After reaching out to the city of San Diego Sustainability Department it seems that the correct website is the ArcGIS web application. The other data set was taken directly from the streetlights data website. Below is the placement of the streetlights in comparison to each of the Mosques in the city.

Many of the Mosques in the city of San Diego are under direct surveillance from these streetlights and while the city says this is passive information, with the joint terrorism task force agreements in place, federal agencies can monitor these cameras whenever they want. They can see all traffic coming in and out of all the Mosques in the city and in some cases if the audio technology was turned on they could in many cases pick up direct conversations.

Islamic Center of San Diego — 7050 Eckstrom Ave, San Diego, CA 92111

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Masjid Al-Ribat — 7173 Saranac St, San Diego, CA

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Masjid Al Huda — 4175 Bonillo Dr, San Diego, CA 92115

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Masjid Omar — 3487 Ocean View Blvd, San Diego, CA 92113

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Masjid Taqwa — 2575 Imperial Ave, San Diego, CA 92102

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Muhammad Mosque — 6635 Imperial Ave, San Diego, CA 92114

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Alsunnah Mosque — 4760 Federal Blvd, San Diego, CA 92102

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Afghan Community Islamic Center — 3333 Sandrock Rd, San Diego, CA 92123

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Islamic Community Center of San Diego/ Masjid Hamza — 8977 Activity Rd #102, San Diego, CA 92126

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Muslim Community Center of San Diego — 14698 Via Fiesta, San Diego, CA 92127

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation
The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Masjid Nur — 3872 50th St, San Diego, CA 92105

The black dot represents the Mosque, the blue represents installed nodes and the orange is for nodes that are planned for installation

Mosques Outside the City of San Diego Limits as Comparison

Masjid Alrahma — 7520 El Cajon Blvd, La Mesa, CA 91942

The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Masjid Uthman — 7126 Westview Pl, Lemon Grove, CA 91945

The red dot is the location of the Mosque with the orange dots representing the smart streetlights placement

Masjid Al-Mu’mineen — 1280 3rd Ave, Chula Vista, CA 91911

Islamic Center of Eastlake — 825 Kuhn Dr #108, Chula Vista, CA 91914

Kurdish Community Islamic Center — 1357 Broadway, El Cajon, CA 92021

Islamic Center of North County — 13495 Poway Rd, Poway, CA 92064

Technology like this developed by companies in the United States is being sold to China and used to police Uyghur Muslim populations. With the Trump administrations targeting of Muslim communities we cannot allow this technology to be in place, especially if the Trump administration were to stay in power and increase targeting of Muslim communities in his second term.

Because there is a real threat to the civil rights and liberties of all San Diegans, CAIR San Diego has joined with a coalition in submitting a letter to the mayor and city council requesting:

  1. A moratorium on the use, installation, and acquisition of these Smart Streetlights
  2. Public participation in the creation of legally enforceable policies and oversight over the use and operation of technology
  3. Public records that identify how these Smart Streetlights have been used and accessed.

In the Quran it states clearly, “Do Not Spy,” these layers of surveillance have created an environment of distrust amongst many Muslims, leading some to become fearful to join any political movements. These verses in the Quran come right before the verses where God is calling on humanity to know one another (49:13) because if we spy on one another and speak behind each others back we will never be able to join together in unity to fight against the forces who create fear about our diverse communites. Join us as we build transformational work to live into these verses and end surveillance in San Diego.

Join us Tuesday September 17 at 9:15am, in front of City Hall for a press conference and public comment at San Diego City Council — 202 C Street, San Diego, CA.

Dustin Craun is the Executive Director of CAIR San Diego

Dustin Craun

Written by

Digital Media Producer, Writer, Film Producer, Founder & Creative Director — Beyond Borders Studios

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