Activists Protest Rollout of ‘Smart Streetlamps’ Across San Diego Due to Surveillance Concerns

Activists Protest Rollout of ‘Smart Streetlamps’ Across San Diego Due to Surveillance Concerns

The mayor says that the only people who should be concerned about the video-enabled streetlamps are people committing “violent crimes on a street corner in full public view.”

Though San Diego first approved its plan for sensor-equipped streetlights in 2016, the city is only now facing backlash for the program after local organizers and activists became concerned about the lights’ acoustic sensors and surveillance cameras.

Officials paid $30 million to install 4,200 lights and upgrade 8,700 others to LED bulbs, according to StateScoop. The first phase of the retrofitting process with CityIQ nodes -- which have environmental, acoustic and optical sensors -- started last year, but the city only began holding community forums about the technology in June.

The delay in community involvement has many advocacy groups across San Diego worried about how the “smart streetlights” will be used, particularly when it comes to policing minority groups. On Sept. 15, Dustin Craun, the executive director of the San Diego Council on American-Islamic Relations, drew attention to the program with a Medium post documenting his concern that mosques were under extreme surveillance due to the streetlamps.

“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,” Craun wrote.

Craun’s organization and other advocacy groups took their concerns to the steps of City Hall last week as part of a protest calling for a moratorium on “smart streetlights” until residents have been informed about what data is being collected and how the city is using it. About 50 demonstrators participated in the protest, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

“Until there is oversight by the community and policy that is legally enforceable in place and an ordinance written into law, you cannot use these smart streetlights any further,” Geneviéve Jones-Wright, legal director for the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, told the newspaper.

City officials admit that they could have started public education efforts sooner in order to prevent confusion about the streetlamp program. Jeffrey Jordan, a San Diego police captain who oversees the camera program, told StateScoop that the nodes’ acoustic sensors are enabled but not activated.

Jordan added that fewer than 100 police officers are authorized to review footage from the cameras if a crime occurred, and their interactions with the footage are audited. Footage has been accessed 164 times in the last 13 months it has been available, he said.

Activists planned to send a letter to the mayor demanding the program be discontinued until their concerns are resolved. As of now, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has supported the program as a major sustainability initiative, is standing behind it.

"The Mayor is a strong support of using technology to improve the lives of San Diegans and the smart streetlight program is used to collect valuable information, such as traffic and pedestrian counts, that can be used for future planning,” a spokesperson for the mayor said in a written statement. “The San Diego Police Department uses the streetlight cameras only to investigate crimes that have already occurred and never for surveillance.”

“The bottom line is you have nothing to worry about unless you decide to commit a violent crime on a street corner in full public view."

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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