Infrastructure Bill Would Invest $ 500 Million In Smart City Surveillance Technology


Buried in the The bipartisan Senate 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 “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation” initiative of the $ 1.2 trillion Senate Infrastructure Bill, city planners and planners would test how data collection devices and new vehicles can improve “transport efficiency and safety”. The sponsors of the bill are particularly interested in reducing traffic, improving access to jobs and health care, reducing pollution and encouraging private sector investment by working with suppliers of communication services.

But some fear that these technologies allow for more government oversight.

The infrastructure bill – which is currently stalled amid the debate over cryptocurrency regulation – does not mention police involvement, but Chad Marlow, senior policy adviser at American Civil Liberties Union, said law enforcement often tries to get hold of data collected by transport services. . The ACLU has worked with city councils across the country to pass laws ensuring community oversight of new surveillance technologies, and Marlow said the new bill must ensure that governments applying for grants get the consent of the government. local residents. “It is extremely important that we focus and center the opinions of the people who live in these communities to hear what they think,” he said.

The proposal includes some security mechanisms, such as banning license plate readers, but Schwartz and Marlow agreed that the protections do not go far enough to prevent law enforcement and law enforcement ‘immigration to access the data collected. “When you talk about transport data, the movement of people, this is very, very difficult information to anonymize and prevent re-identification,” Schwartz said.

The idea for the grants program borrows from the futuristic concept of a “smart city” that local governments across the country and around the world – including in South Bend, Indiana, under the mayoralty of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg – adopted in the hope to revitalize business, health, and security in the poorest and overpopulated communities. Often encouraged by large tech companies looking for lucrative contracts, the concept envisions using high-speed networks of shared sensor data, known as the Internet of Things, to help manage the flow of people, of trade and energy at reduced costs.

Representative Yvette Clarke of New York, the second most powerful Democrat on the House of Commons Energy and Trade Committee, has been a supporter of smart city technology and argued that the Bill on infrastructure does not go far enough. Clarke told The Intercept on Thursday that while she is happy that the bill provides grants and creates an online resource center to help local governments, “we need a coordinated effort from across the board. federal machinery to support the adoption of smart community infrastructure and technologies. that will lead our communities into the 21st century.

To do so, Clarke said that in the upcoming budget reconciliation process, she will advocate for stronger federal support outlined in the “Smart Cities and Communities Act” than she and Representative Suzan DelBene, D -Wash., Presented in May. Approved by the Software Alliance which represents Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce and others, the bill would authorize $ 1.1 billion to help technology adoption, arguing that U.S. cities are lagging behind local governments. around the world, who are on the verge of spending $ 41 trillion over the next 20 years.

Clarke and DelBene suggest involving civil liberties organizations and keeping data confidential, but they are not calling for bans on specific technologies like license plate readers or restricting access by police forces. order to certain information. “As technology increasingly becomes part of the fabric of civil society and municipal functions, we need to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place from the start to protect our civil liberties,” Clarke said today. hui.

While announcing their bill earlier this year, the two lawmakers highlighted the environmental and health benefits of technologies being implemented across the country, such as localized sensors to better forecast the weather and reduce flash floods in Seattle or Smart streetlights to save energy costs in Spokane. . They also noted apparent security benefits, such as the deployment in Boston of a “sensor-based gunshot detection system” or the addition in Los Angeles of bike lanes and agents where data showed that there were dangerous intersections.

Meanwhile, the deployment of smart technology in Los Angeles has come under close scrutiny from activists. Last year, the EFF and the ACLU sued the city’s transportation department for demanding electric scooter rental companies to share real-time passenger GPS data with government officials. They argued that the government could use this location data to identify people and that the information could ultimately be shared, stolen or subpoenaed. The lawsuit also followed the controversial deployment of license plate readers in California.

Marlow of the ACLU said it would be possible, with very strict regulations in place, for cities to use smart technologies to improve urban living standards without opening the door to more police surveillance. More importantly, however, “it really shouldn’t be for the ACLU or Congress or anyone else to think in a macro sense of what are and are not acceptable levels of risk,” did he declare. “All of this should be placed within the people who live in these communities. “

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