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STREET SPIES: Technically-advanced lights, for now, intended to just brighten streets

Reported by: Gerard Ramalho
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Updated: 11/11/2013 4:25 pm
Tonight News 3 continues its series on privacy and how a new streetlight system being tested by the city of Las Vegas is drawing concern by some privacy advocates. The new lights are capable of all sorts of functions including recording video and audio, which means everyday conversations from people walking by could potentially be recorded.

LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- City officials say Las Vegas has no intention of using the recording features.

It is an option on these street lights and city officials say right now, they don't want to utilize that option. Their word, unfortunately for some citizens who worry our privacy rights could potentially be being violated.

On one hand, it’s hard not to be excited about the new streetlight system currently being tested in Las Vegas.

Music and messaging, digital displays, even energy monitoring, all controlled wirelessly from an iPad.

“From the CPU to the temperature, to luminary AC Currents, all of these things are being evaluated.”
On the other hand these high-tech advancements, some say pose a grave danger to our very rights as Americans.

“I think everybody should be concerned about it.”

UNLV law professor Christopher Blakesley believes technology in general, is out-pacing legal protections for citizens.

The Intellistreets lights, for example, come with upgradable options and security features like video and audio recording.

In the wrong hands, he says the system could be compromised and so could our privacy.

“It’s there to be done, either by a renegade employee or more nefariously, maybe the government itself,” Blakesley said.

Las Vegas city officials are considering three downtown areas for permanent installment of the smart lights: The so-called arts trail on 1st street, the parade route on 4th, and the Fremont East District.

Las Vegas Public Works Director Jorge Cervantes says it’s not the city’s intention to use the lights for recording.

“They do have that capability, anytime you have a wireless system to hookup to cameras and do that kind of monitoring. We’re not going to use it for that purpose,” said Jorge Cervantes, The Public Works Director in Las Vegas.

Those assurances however aren’t enough for privacy advocates like Daphne Lee.

“I would like to see public conversations made before these types of decisions are made for the rest of us,” Hill said.

Hill believes since the lights are being considered for public areas and there should at least be more public disclosure.

“Now they can say, ‘trust us, we’re doing it for good reason,’ and they probably are most of the time but who know if the next one will be doing it for good reasons,” Blakesley said.

Professor Blakesly believes the Las Vegas streetlight project may be an opportunity to shed light on an even bigger issue, one that may require passing new laws or expanding the definition of existing laws.

He says otherwise our privacies will continue to slowly disappear, one technological advancement at a time.

“There need to be protections against that being abused,” Blakesley said.
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