Open Letter to City Officials Re: Smart Streetlights and License Plate Readers – Personal Privacy and Civil Liberties Are at Stake

by on March 15, 2023 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Lance Murphy/ Peninsula Newsletter / March 9, 2023

Dear City Officials,

I am writing to express my concerns about the rapid deployment of Smart Streetlight Surveillance Systems in the City of San Diego. I request that appropriate safeguards and protections be put in place to ensure the privacy and civil liberties of all San Diego residents.

While I understand and support the benefits of these systems to improve public safety, reduce crime and improve the productivity of law enforcement officers, I also strongly believe that the risks associated with the use of this technology must be carefully considered and sufficiently managed.

Specifically, I am concerned about the potential for abuse and misuse of collected data, as well as the potential for violations of personal privacy and civil liberties. This is not to say that there will be intentional risks but that in today’s digital and interconnected world there are an unknown and ever changing set of risks to securing data and images that carry an incredible responsibility to those that create and capture that data.

In addition to the risks associated with the Smart Streetlight Surveillance Systems themselves, I am also concerned about the proposed use of License Plate Readers and other possible future enabled surveillance devices and AI capabilities. The potential for these systems to be interconnected and misused or abused, particularly without proper oversight and regulation, is a significant concern for safeguarding the rights as protected by the Constitution.

Therefore, I urge city officials to exercise caution when considering the use of any new surveillance technologies.

Officials must engage in meaningful, public consultation and investigation to ensure that any design of these systems is done in a way that is infallible in protecting everyone’s privacy and civil liberties. Effectively the design of the systems, procedures and enforcement is the City’s responsibility that cannot be subcontracted. None of this preparation eliminates the perpetual responsibility for continued oversight and transparency if there is any risk to privacy. Simply saying that the data storage is for a limited time on a AWS server does not answer this question.

It is also essential that policies are put in place to determine who, outside the select SDPD officers, may have approved access to collected data/images and under what circumstances. Once any access is permitted, it remains the City’s responsibility to specify how this data will be protected if transferred outside the control of the San Diego Police Department. Clear protocols must be established for responding to requests or demands for access to this data, particularly from state or federal agencies or non-governmental organizations.

Moreover, legal statutes and penalties must be put in place, in advance, to safeguard against any abuse of this data and to hold accountable those who violate privacy and civil liberties.

As a concerned citizen, I am also disappointed with the poor efforts and delayed commissioning and staffing of the Privacy Advisory Board (PAB) that was originally agreed to in 2020 when the Smart Streetlight program was abruptly halted. I believe that this board may provide the essential forum for meaningful public consultation and oversight regarding the use of surveillance technology in San Diego. Its absence is a significant cause for concern.

I urge city officials to prioritize the establishment of this board as soon as possible to ensure that public oversight and transparency are integral parts of the design, policies and technology deployment in San Diego. To immediately continue deployment without having a functioning PAB, which was one of the recommendations in the June 6, 2022 Grand Jury report, is
completely wrong and I feel is ‘putting the cart before the horse’.

Finally, I want to emphasize that the potential for financial and personal security risks from misused images that could be edited or used in a deep-fake or as an extortion attempt cannot be ignored. I urge city officials to recognize these risks are unavoidable and appropriate measures are necessary to ensure that collected data is protected and used solely for its intended purposes.

As we continue to navigate this complex and rapidly evolving landscape of surveillance technology, it is crucial that we remain vigilant in protecting our fundamental rights and freedoms. Only by working together to balance the importance of public safety with the protection of individual rights and freedoms can we ensure a safe, just, and equitable society for all residents of San Diego. Do it right and we will be a model for the entire world, do it wrong and await the disaster that will come from enabling abuse of innocent people.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Lance Murphy
Point Loma

NOTE: There are two draft proposals. One is about Smart Streetlights and the other specifically addresses license plate recognition.

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