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City plans meetings to address concerns over streetlight sensors

Nearly 4,000 streetlights equipped with cameras
Smart Streetlight.jpg
Posted at 11:43 AM, Mar 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-13 14:43:22-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif (KGTV) - In an effort to calm people's fears about new streetlights equipped with cameras and sensors, the City of San Diego will hold a public forum Wednesday night to answer questions and explain what the new technology does, and does not do.

The meeting is from 5:30 to 7 pm, at the Malcom X Library on 5148 Market Street.

Over the last two years, the city has installed more than 3,000 new streetlights that have "Smart City" technology built into them. The lights have cameras, microphones and sensors to track activity around them throughout the day.

RELATED: "Smart" Streetlights coming to San Diego

"Pedestrians walking by, cars parking and then leaving, cars traveling by, which direction, how fast," explains Cody Hooven, the City of San Diego's Chief Sustainability Officer.

It will also track weather information in real time.

That information is turned into meta-data and uploaded to the cloud. According to the city, it can be used for research or to build apps to make life easier. The goal is to turn San Diego into a "Smart City."

Examples the city uses describe apps that can tell people when a parking spot opens up, or one that will gauge how many people pass by a certain spot every day.

But critics worry about the privacy concerns of having thousands of government-controlled cameras around town.

RELATED: Thousands of Streetlights to get "Smart" tech by the end of August

Hooven says the cameras are only used to gather the information. The footage from the cameras isn't accessible to the public, and the cameras are not for surveillance. Also, the footage will only be stored on the camera for 5 days and then deleted.

Police may only ask for footage after a crime is committed, and only as part of an investigation. According to the city, the footage has already been used to help SDPD solve a handful of crimes.

Hooven also says the cameras will use GPS technology to ensure they only get footage of public spaces, and not areas that are expected to be private. The system uses a process called "curtilage" to blur any areas that shouldn't be shown.

Hooven says the city is ready to answer any other questions people have about the new lights at Wednesday's meeting.

"Technology is coming and we're trying to embrace it to provide a lot of benefits to the city and save us money," she says. "But we need to have these conversations about data privacy to make sure that our citizens and our community is comfortable with how we're using the information."

For more details on the "Smart City" program, including an interactive map of where all of the new "Smart" streetlights have already been installed, click here.