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Cameras in San Diego's controversial Smart Streetlights turned off — for now

Smart Streetlight.jpg
Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 11, 2020

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — An important tool for San Diego Police is going away for now.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has decided to turn off the cameras in the city's controversial Smart Streetlights until the San Diego City Council adopts a clear surveillance ordinance.

In a statement, Faulconer said:

"Police have used smart street lights to hold violent criminals accountable. I support—and proposed—clear rules for this tech, but the City Council stalled on legislation. They won't approve funds without legislation, so there's no choice but to turn them off until Council acts."

Community advocates, including The Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology San Diego (TRUST SD) Coalition, have repeatedly called for a moratorium on the use of the cameras until clear rules are put in place.

"This is something that the Trust SD coalition, made up of over 30 community organizations, has been working for the better part of the year," said Geneviéve Jones-Wright, an attorney and community advocate. "We made this very demand, that there be a moratorium on the use, installation, acquisition of the smart streetlights unless there was a mechanism in place to provide for oversight, for transparency, for accountability."

While privacy concerns remain an issue, the Smart Streetlights have helped police track down suspects in many high profile cases, including murders in the East Village and Otay Mesa.

The Smart Streetlights were introduced to the public as a cost-saving, energy-efficient alternative to replacing the city's former streetlights.

They also included sensors that could track data for things like parking availability, traffic, and weather. But, what many people didn't know is the lights were also equipped with cameras and microphones.

"I understand that these lights are an important police tool; however, there still has to be rules in place," said Jones-Wright. "It is very important for us to have ordinances on the books that will provide the proper oversight and public input that is needed. It is about our civil liberties; it is about our privacy rights; it is about our constitutional rights; it is about who controls our data."

The city council has yet to adopt a surveillance ordinance.

Jones-Wright said she would continue to push for the "The Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology Ordinance," as well as establishing a privacy advisory commission.