Smart streetlight controversy in San Diego prompts surveillance revamp

The city council will vote in September on plans to update guidelines, which would provide more oversight and a Privacy Advisory Commission.

By Chris Teale

Published Aug. 5, 2020

Amid swirling controversies surrounding San Diego’s Smart Streetlights program, including its use to surveil protestors marching against systemic racism, new laws being debated in the city would more strictly govern the use of surveillance technology.

One ordinance sponsored by City Councilmember Monica Montgomery would set policies governing the current and future use of surveillance technology and set parameters for how it can be used. It also creates requirements on oversight, auditing and reporting. Another would establish a nine-member Privacy Advisory Commission (PAC), which would create a use policy for the San Diego City Council to consider and adopt, and would also need to be informed whenever the city is about to partner on a new type of surveillance technology.

The legislation comes as many cities face a reckoning over policing methods, funding and the culture of surveillance, with calls to “defund the police” upending some cities’ budgeting processes. While some police departments have worked to try and assuage residents’ fears about the use of technology in law enforcement, it has prompted legislative action in cities including New York, where the city council voted in June to force the New York Police Department (NYPD) to be more transparent about the tech it is using.

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