San Diego Smart Street Lights Draw Criticism From Activists

Pushback against San Diego's smart street lights program — which puts cameras on street lights and collects data — continued at a forum downtown where speakers called it a data goldmine for the private sector.

by Teri Figueroa, The San Diego Union-Tribune / November 14, 2019
Shutterstock/Alex Linch

(TNS) — Pushback against San Diego's "smart street lights" program — which puts cameras on a few thousand street lights and collects data like pedestrian movements — continued Tuesday at a forum downtown where speakers called it intrusive and a data goldmine for the private sector.

Some of the street lights have already been retrofitted with the technology, but the coalition behind the forum wants a moratorium on installing data-gathering sensors until there is more public input.

Critics have raised several questions about how the data could be used, who gets access to it and who has oversight.

"We have to come together and realize this is about all of our data, all of our privacy, all of our rights being trampled upon," said Geneviéve Jones-Wright, legal director for the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, a San Diego-based advocacy group that helps refugees.

Jones-Wright moderated the evening forum that drew about three dozen attendees. The panel included tech industry workers and attorney Cory Briggs, a candidate for city attorney.

Briggs noted problems in the contract the city signed with technology partner General Electric's CityIQ. He also said there is no neutral party looking at how the data will be used.

It's been nearly three years since the city approved the project, which was initially presented as a cost-savings plan to replace lights on some 8,000 poles with energy-efficient LED lighting. Installation started last year but is not complete.

Earlier this year came the public revelation that the plan also included sensors for high-tech data gathering. The revelation led several community groups to come together to push back.

Under the plan, according to the city's website, some 4,200 street light poles will be equipped with cameras, microphones and other technology that collects data — pedestrian and vehicle movements, parking availability, even temperature and humidity.

The city says it can take that real-time data in several applications for community benefit, including improving traffic congestion, making parking easier or enhancing public safety.

San Diego police have access to the videos, which were used in more than 160 investigations between August 2018 and September 2019.

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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