More Debate Over San Diego’s Secret Streetlight Cameras

by on October 31, 2019 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Recently – and to their credit – the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune raised the question, “who’s to blame for San Diego’s secret streetlight cameras?” – and natch, they answered their own question.

In December 2016, when the San Diego City Council preliminarily approved a $30.3 million “Smart Streetlights” project, a key detail — that contractor GE would equip thousands of streetlights with cameras to monitor their surroundings — was never shared publicly. Awareness spread with the sensors themselves, and there is now a set of 4,000-plus cameras that are on all the time — and a sense of conspiracy. Critics complain the contract gave GE an “irrevocable, permanent, worldwide, royalty-free” right to use footage for its own commercial purposes.

San Diego police are have also been using streetlight camera footage since August 2018 when an officer noticed a camera built into a streetlight in the Gaslamp area while investigating a shooting. A call for a moratorium by Council President Georgette Gómez and members Monica Montgomery and Chris Ward goes too far at this stage, but the public should know exactly how the footage is used. Concerns about privacy and surveillance are multiplying, especially in communities of color.

Local attorney Geneviéve Jones-Wright and other civil rights activists are righteously upset that thousands of these cameras went up without any public debate. As a result, the blame game among current and former city officials is in full effect.

Who’s to blame? Everyone…..[For the balance, go here.]

The U-T has been carrying on a debate of sorts. Earlier this month, attorney Genevieve Jones-Wright wrote an opinion entitled, “How San Diego May Be Spying on You”; she began:

On Constitution Day, I joined with a diverse group of community members for a press conference to call on our government to protect our constitutional right to privacy.

We called for an immediate moratorium on the use, installation, and acquisition of Smart Streetlights until a legally enforceable ordinance that protects privacy, provides effective safeguards and ensures public oversight is put in place. We must mitigate impacts on privacy and civil liberties.

The Smart Streetlights program was sold to our City Council as an environmental project back in December 2016 — a full two and a half years before the city ever held a single community forum on the technology. This “Intelligent Cities Lighting Project” was billed as a “cost-savings effort for the city to replace high energy use streetlights with more efficient LED lights.” There was no discussion about surveillance issues and privacy concerns. In fact, Jen Lebron — Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s then-spokesperson — boasted in 2017 that the Smart Streetlights were approved by our City Council “without discussion of potential privacy issues raised by the surveillance system.” [For the balance, see this.]

Coupled with Jones-Wright piece, there was a counter opinion, entitled “Why Smart Streetlights Benefit San Diegans.”

In a world where instant communication, valuable information and real-time customer service are at our fingertips, San Diegans expect a lot from anyone they interact with — including local government. We strive to keep up with what our citizens seek in terms of service and efficiency. The Smart Streetlight project is one example of that.

We work to make sure that infrastructure lasts the test of time whenever it is upgraded. As part of a larger effort to replace inefficient outdoor lighting with lower-energy LED bulbs, in some cases forward-thinking technology was also installed in the form of Smart Streetlights.

People understandably have questions about any new technology. So here is what Smart Streetlights do and don’t do. Let’s start with how they work. [See balance.]

For more background, see these:

Reader’s Rant: Will New “Smart” Led Street Lights on Newport Ave in Ocean Beach Write You a Parking Ticket?

The Spy Street Lights of Ocean Beach and Point Loma

As San Diego Police Increase Their Use of Streetlight Cameras, Criticism Mounts Over Lack of Oversight and Potential for Abuse

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

sealintheSelkirks November 5, 2019 at 12:29 pm

There is a cartoon that’s been circulating around the internet for a while depicting a jackbooted brownshirt in front of a red/white/& blue flag, and the caption below says “It isn’t Fascism when we do it” that perfectly captures the moment these spy poles went in all over San Diego without any discussion by the public about it. No vote on it, Big Brother knows best, and just poof goes $30 million dollars for spying on San Diego all the time. On you and everybody you know. And all that information getting sucked in 24/7/365 becomes corporate property?

Imagine what else that money could have been used for. How about the largest party ever held in the history of OB? That would have been money better spent!

My entire life I’ve been told by the government to look down in disgust from my shining city on the hill at the evil Soviet Union spying indiscriminately on their citizens, to abhor the horrible Fascist East German Stasi Police turning half their citizens into informers… then of course there was Cuba, North Korea, Red China Commies, and those awful North Vietnamese commies to sneer at and preen our feathers over how free we are…

But then we keep finding out our own government does the same thing because it keeps getting caught doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING TO US over and over and over but…it isn’t Red Communism or Fascism when we do it.

No, it is saving de-mock-racy, instilling order, enforcing the law, and of course it is always for our own good because those spy cams and microphones are only there to protect us don’t you know? And you shouldn’t worry your little heads about it because the leaders always knows what is best for you. And in the words of the immortal (and abysmally ignorant) George W Bush you should just go SHOPPING and everything will be taken care of by your elders. No need to fret!

But when San Diego citizens try to get in an independent oversight board to spy on the local enforcers it’s somehow not a good thing? Ruffles the feathers doesn’t it? Woe is me they cry!

And then out comes a statement against impeachment by the massive National Fraternal Order of Police union and how bad it would be because we are trying to…stop on-going criminal acts with articles of impeachment (but it’s okay with spy cams on streetlights?):

So I’m guessing that enforcing the rules and spying on those that are spying on us is…not playing fair?

Is this what is meant by IRONY?

My vote (if it made any difference in how the elite politicians rule us anyway) would be to yank every one of those East German spy poles down so the City of San Diego can sell them to North Korea. I’m sure they could use some new spy tech on their own people because that’s what THEY do, right? At least get back a little of the money the political clowns spent on them, fill some potholes in the roads, fund schools and libraries a bit more, that sort of thing. Don’t forget the giant party at the OB Pier! And possibly, improve the quality of breathing in freedom in the air just a teeny tiny bit.



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