Controversy surrounds city-wide ‘Smart Streetlights’ as activists call for end of mass surveillance

San Diego residents and activists are up in arms regarding the city’s ‘Smart Streetlights’ program, a massive public surveillance initiative described by the city as the “world’s largest Smart City platform.”

Approved by the San Diego City Council in late 2016, the program included the implementation of 4,700 cameras and microphones around the city, collecting real-time video and audio at all hours of the day. While some have praised the program for its purpose of crime prevention, others have deemed it a “major privacy and and civil rights concern.”

In a press conference held Tuesday morning, local activist groups came together to publicly call for the end of the Smart Surveillance program, including PANA legal director and former San Diego County District Attorney candidate, Geneviéve Jones-Wright.

Blue pins indicate installed cameras, orange pins indicate cameras to be installed.

Blue pins indicate installed cameras, orange pins indicate cameras to be installed.

“What is very concerning and troubling is that these cameras were installed and are being used all over this city without any oversight,” Jones-Wright said in reference to the cameras facial recognition and audio recording capabilities. “For every 1,000th person in San Diego, there are almost two and a half cameras watching.”

Others have cited the cameras’ seemingly dubious positioning as a reason for concern, noting the high number of cameras installed in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods, such as City Heights and . CAIR San Diego has also similarly noted that at least one camera has been positioned outside nearly every Mosque in the city.

While multiple community organizations have called for the program’s moratorium, however, some surveillance advocates and residents have lauded the initiative as an innovative way of optimizing public safety and environmental awareness.

“It makes me feel safe knowing that we're being watched like that,” one San Diego resident told Fox 5. “If anything was to happen it would be recorded.”

According to the city council website, the city is hopeful that the technology will help San Diego save money and increase safety.