By Cody Dulaney and Matt Kristoffersen
Some residents called it mass surveillance technology that erodes personal privacy. Others said it will mark San Diego’s descent into communist China. And still others said it didn’t go far enough.
All last week, San Diego police officials held public meetings in each of the city’s nine council districts to give residents an opportunity to weigh in on proposed surveillance technology.
The police department wants to do two things: return to its controversial “smart streetlight” program, attaching 500 video cameras to light poles throughout the city, as well as add technology to those cameras allowing the agency to collect drivers’ location data.
San Diego police Capt. Jeff Jordon, who led each of the nine public meetings, highlighted horrific anecdotes of murder and kidnapping, and said those crimes and more were solved thanks to smart streetlights and license plate reader technology. But he is sensitive to community concerns, he said, and stressed that the department wants to roll this out responsibly.
“Any technology that you embrace is only as good as the rules you build around it,” Jordon said. “The first one has to be using it in an ethical and legal manner, making sure that we afford protections to people and not use it in an unethical manner.”
Many members of the public who attended the meeting were skeptical, questioning who would have access to the information, under what circumstances and what the police department would do to police itself.
“There are legions of examples of police departments all over the country, including California, violating every single one of those rules,” said Chris McCann, a software architect who has experience with intelligence gathering and surveillance technology. “Why should anyone take at face value any guarantee being made here today?”
If approved, 500 new streetlight cameras would include automated license plate reader technology. They capture any license plate that comes into view and extract the time, date, location and sometimes a partial image of the vehicle. They automatically store the plate number in a searchable database and compare it to a list of vehicles that police are looking for.
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