Streetlights as Spyware

Smart street lights are fast becoming a trojan horse for pervasive government surveillance – unless activists intervene at key moments in local policymaking, says Michael Silberman. Cities and towns across the United States have begun installing “smart” streetlights that promise public safety, environmental, and economic benefits while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a pervasive surveillance infrastructure. Smart streetlights put everyone’s civil liberties at risk, but they disproportionately impact the most vulnerable communities.  Unlike more obviously intrusive technologies, like the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) facial recognition at major airports, smart streetlights have largely escaped public scrutiny as they quietly become permanent fixtures of the urban landscape. Local policymakers must begin addressing smart streetlights like police body cams – not as mere safety infrastructure. Residents and civic organizations will need to begin engaging in local permitting processes to ensure that smart street light projects include protections over the collection and use of data from streetlights prior to approving budgets and implementation plans.  Much more than LEDs Smart streetlights have already arrived, even if they haven’t turned heads or drawn much attention. They represent the backbone of burgeoning “smart city” programs in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and other cities. According to one industry report, smart streetlights will be the focus of $8.2 billion in municipal spending in under a decade. For instance, in Washington DC, the Smart Street Lights project is part of a broader “Smart City Initiative” championed by Mayor Muriel Bowser. According to the city, these technology initiatives “leverage intelligent…Streetlights as Spyware