ACLU Warns “Smart” Street Lights May Infringe on Public Privacy

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According to Chad Marlow, a senior counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), energy-efficient, network-controlled LED street lights which are being deployed to build “smart cities” could be used for widespread public surveillance.

“This often scares the bejesus out of people, and for good reason,” Marlow said during a presentation in Washington, D.C., hosted by the New America Foundation. “They have a wonderful sales pitch. They go to a city and they say, ‘Hey, you’re using those really inefficient, bad environmental, break-all-the-time incandescent bulbs in your street lamps. Wouldn’t it be better if you used these LED bulbs? They’re efficient, they save money, and by the way, they have built-in cameras and microphones.'” 

The conversation is part of the ACLU’s Community Control Over Police Surveillance program which aims to pass laws creating oversight of law enforcement technology, reported StateScoop. The initiative recommends that a city should not fund or acquire new surveillance technology until its residents are informed how it will be used, and municipal legislators formally approve it. The program also considers technologies like facial recognition software, automated license plate readers and cell tower simulators—commonly known as Stingrays—that can be used to track an individual’s mobile phone.  

Marlow added that the smart street light devices can give local law enforcement broad surveillance abilities that could be used to target vulnerable communities, reported StateScoop. Additionally, Marlow noted that cities like Baltimore, Detroit, San Diego, Chicago, and others embracement of high-tech street lights might not be so enthusiastic if the eco-friendly pitches behind them were reversed. “If you said ‘hey, we’re putting a camera and microphone on every street corner because they’re light bulbs,’ you’d get a much different reaction,” he said.

September 21, 2018

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