As predicted by privacy advocates, a hoard of surveillance data collected by video cameras and audio sensors incorporated into San Diego street lights is exclusively in the hands of the city's police department.
The sweeping police powers are contained in a freshly-minted Intelligent Streetlight Data Policy, signed and dated February 6, more than a month after the Reader's January 3 request under the California public records act to obtain the information gathered by city sensors housed in a single streetlight downtown.
The city denied that request after publication here on February 20 of "Streetlights that Spy," an investigation into San Diego's so-called intelligent streetlight program, in which more than 3200 light fixtures have been outfitted with an array of video, audio, and data sensors focused on streets and sidewalks below.
The new policy document, created without public notice or input, appears to be the first by the city to address privacy and access issues regarding a host of sensitive data collected by the city's $30.3 million streetlight surveillance system, online since 2017.
"The video and related images from the cameras onboard the City's intelligent streetlight sensors may be accessed exclusively for law enforcement purposes with the Police Department as the custodian and departmental owner of these records," according to the policy.
"Only law enforcement personnel authorized by the Chief of Police and subject to Police Department policy shall have access to these recordings. The Chief of Police shall determine the manner in which video is retained and the duration of retention."
The policy adds that "audio from the City's intelligent streetlight sensors may be accessed exclusively for law enforcement purposes with the Police Department as the custodian and departmental owner of these records."
According to the document, "Public access to or use of video, image, and audio data is not allowed and is subject to the Police Department's policy related to the use of video, images, and audio recordings for criminal investigations."
Critics of high-tech intelligence collection by city streetlights have < have long questioned law enforcement's role in gathering and storing the resulting data. "Local police forces have largely taken to acquiring and using surveillance technologies in secret,” according to the website of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Of course, when the police conceal their use of surveillance technologies, they greatly enhance their ability to conceal its misuse, such as using a surveillance technology without a properly obtained warrant or in a discriminatory manner.”