Tags: san diego | streetlights | surveillance | smart city | big brother

San Diego's Smart Streetlights Spur Surveillance Debate

streetlight against a blue cloudy sky
(Dreamstime)

By    |   Friday, 07 August 2020 09:49 AM

Thousands of streetlights in San Diego outfitted with smart technology have sparked a fierce debate about surveillance.

The program using GE Current started as a pilot in 2016, and by 2018 it was extended city-wide. According to Bloomberg City Lab, San Diego officials hoped the sensors contained in the lights would allow better air quality monitoring, improved data on parking spots, and would make people safer overall in part because of the cameras contained inside the lights.

The $30 million program involved replacing 14,000 of the city's 60,000 streetlights with LEDs. Of those, 3,200 were outfitted with the surveillance sensors.

Two years later, however, the program has largely been abandoned as the city negotiates a new contract with another company to maintain the lights. Privacy rights activists are crying foul about what they see as a big brother situation.

The San Diego Police Department is responsible for regulating the surveillance tools.

"We've been talking about the police policing themselves for a very long time, especially as of late," said Geneviéve Jones-Wright, the executive director of Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance and a leader of an organization called Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology San Diego, or TRUST SD.

"It was like the fox writing the policy on how many freaking hens it can eat."

Ubicquia, a smart city company, is in talks to take over the contract with the city after it purchased GE's smart streetlight program this year. Its CEO Ian Aaron told Bloomberg that cities collecting data are left with a pile of information.

"Cities want a lot of data, and then when they get the data it's like, 'Oh my gosh, what do we do with it?'" he said.

Still, the program has had some benefits. Police, for example, have solved several crimes using video footage recorded by the smart lights. And in one case, a person who died after being shot was found to have committed suicide, so the criminal case into the matter was dropped.

More recently, the video footage has captured some of the protests that have plagued cities across the nation.

City Council member Monica Montgomery said of the footage that is recorded and kept, "The concern is that it will be misused, and folks will be abused by it, based on their religious affiliation and their race."

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Thousands of streetlights in San Diego outfitted with smart technology have sparked a fierce debate about surveillance. The program using GE Current started as a pilot in 2016, and by 2018 it was extended city-wide. According to Bloomberg City Lab, San Diego officials hoped the...
san diego, streetlights, surveillance, smart city, big brother
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2020-49-07
Friday, 07 August 2020 09:49 AM
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