Economy

City Attorney Mara Elliott Compromises the Privacy and Money of San Diegans

Mara Elliott has compromised the privacy and money of San Diego citizens by overreaching her power and abilities as San Diego City Attorney. 

In 2017, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Council approved a $30 million contract for new street lamps that were sold as energy-efficient from a subsidiary of General Electric. This contract is known as the “Intelligent Cities Lighting Project,” which put up around 14,000 of these new streetlamps. Not only were these street lamps perceived as better for the environment, but they also promised tax-paying citizens $2.4 million in annual energy savings.

The new street lights weren’t just “energy efficient” or saving taxpayers money. According to Voice of San Diego, nearly 3,000 of these streetlights had “intelligent nodes” on them. Intelligent nodes are cameras and other surveillance devices that can be used by police.

However, what people may not know is that whoever looks over the nodes can track very specific details, like what car you drive, about your daily life and routine. Unsurprisingly, many residents who live near one of these street lamps with nodes were concerned about surveillance in general and the lack of authority overlooking these surveillance nodes.

Ultimately, Elliott failed to report to Mayor Faulconer and City Council the extent of the streetlamps’ surveillance and failed to state any rules—or even the need for rules—to prevent the infringement on personal privacy. As City Attorney, Elliott either failed to read the GE contract about how the “core feature of this platform is the ability to collect data from a ubiquitous network of sensors embedded in the intelligent nodes,” or just simply refused to speak about how some of the new street lamps had the capacity to gather and track data about people and public places.

These streetlamps gather “processed” and “sourced” data. Sourced data is what’s observed by the streetlights’ surveillance and monitoring nodes, such as audio and visuals, while processed data is a summary or analyzation of the sourced data. But why are there these two types of data?

Well, another thing Elliott “left out” was that the processed data can be collected and used by GE themselves. Not only can GE use and collect processed data about citizens and public areas, but they can do whatever they wish to do with the processed data, including sharing the data with whoever they please. So, the reassurance that only the police and high authority figures will be using the surveillance for the public’s safety is dissolved. 

As City Attorney, or even as a basic lawyer, Elliott should have read the contract thoroughly and presented her findings and any pros—and especially—cons on the contract. However, she has allowed a corporation to invade people’s privacy and cost taxpayers money.