Infrastructure bill would invest $ 500 million in “smart city” surveillance technology


Buried in The Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill is a grant program that would distribute $ 500 million to cities to experiment with sensors, autonomous vehicles, drones, and other technologies designed to improve urban living standards.

As part of the Senate Infrastructure Bill’s “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation” initiative worth $ 1.2 trillion, state and city planners are testing how data collection devices and new vehicles can improve “transportation efficiency and safety.” The bill’s sponsors are particularly keen to reduce traffic, improve access to jobs and health care, reduce pollution and encourage private sector investment by working with communications service providers.

However, some fear that these technologies will only enable government surveillance.

The infrastructure bill – that is currently stalled in the cryptocurrency regulation debate – doesn’t mention police involvement, but Chad Marlow, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said law enforcement agencies often try to get data collected by transportation departments. The ACLU has been working with city councils across the country to pass laws that will ensure community oversight of new surveillance technologies, and Marlow said the new bill must guarantee that governments applying for grants will get local consent. “It is vital that we focus on the people who live in these communities and center their opinion in order to hear their opinion,” he said.

The proposal includes some security mechanisms, like banning license plate readers, but Schwartz and Marlow agreed that the safeguards did not go far enough to prevent laws and immigration authorities from accessing the collected data. “When it comes to transportation data and movement of people, this is information that is very, very difficult to de-identify and prevents re-identification,” said Schwartz.

The idea of ​​the scholarship program is based on the futuristic concept of the “Smart City” that local governments across the country and worldwide – also in South Bend, Indiana, under the mayor’s office of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg – adopted in hopes of revitalizing business, health and safety in poorer and congested communities. Often acclaimed by large tech companies looking for lucrative contracts, the concept envisions the use of high-speed networks with shared sensor data, known as the Internet of Things, to control the flow of people, trade and energy at a reduced cost.

New York MP Yvette Clarke, the second most powerful Democrat on the House of Representatives’ energy and trade committee, was an advocate of smart city technology, arguing that the infrastructure bill didn’t go far enough. Clarke told The Intercept in an email on Thursday that while she was glad the bill would provide grants and set up an online resource center to support local governments, “we need a coordinated effort from across the federal bureau to do that.” To support the introduction of intelligent infrastructures and technologies for the community ”. that will lead our churches into the 21st century. “

To do this, Clarke said that she will be in the upcoming budget vote process for the more robust government support outlined she and Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., introduced the “Smart Cities and Communities Act” in May. Endorsed by the Software Alliance, which represents Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, and others, the bill would authorize $ 1.1 billion to support technology adoption for 20 years.

Clarke and DelBene suggest engaging civil rights organizations and protecting privacy, but are not calling for bans on certain technologies such as license plate readers or restricting law enforcement access to certain information. “As technology becomes increasingly embedded in the fabric of civil society and community functions, we need to ensure right from the start that adequate safeguards are in place to protect our civil liberties,” Clarke said today.

When announcing their bill earlier this year, the two lawmakers pointed out the environmental and health benefits of technologies deployed across the country, such as localized sensors to better predict the weather and reduce flash floods in Seattle, or smart streetlights to save on Energy costs in Spokane. They also noted obvious safety benefits, such as the use of a “sensor-based firearms detection system” in Boston or the addition of bike lanes and officers in Los Angeles with data showing dangerous intersections.

Meanwhile, the adoption of intelligent technology in Los Angeles has been under scrutiny by activists. Last year EFF and ACLU did sued the city’s traffic office for requiring electric scooter rental companies to share real-time GPS data of drivers with government officials. They argued that the government could use this location data to identify individuals and that information could ultimately be shared, stolen, or subpoenaed. The lawsuit also followed the controversial use of license plate readers in California.

ACLU’s Marlow said very tight regulations could allow cities to use smart technology to improve urban living standards without opening the door to more police surveillance. More importantly, “it really shouldn’t be up to the ACLU or Congress or anyone else doing the macro-thinking about what are acceptable levels of risk and what are not,” he said. “All of this should be brought to the people who live in these communities.”


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