Covert Facial Recognition Street Lights—Coming Soon to a Neighborhood near You?: NMA Weekly E-Newsletter #514

From guest writer Joe Cadillic of the MassPrivtel Blog

A recent Reuter’s article revealed that ST Engineering has been awarded $5.5 million to install facial recognition street lights in Singapore. ST’s smart street lights come equipped with sensors, LED screens and covert cameras already installed. Incredibly, ST claims their spying street lights can bring “healthcare benefits to residents.”

Just like smart city projects everywhere, Singapore claims that spying street lights “are not built by the government but by all of us – citizens, companies, agencies.”  And just like Riverhead, New York who claimed that police surveillance drones will revitalize downtown, Singapore claims their spying street lights will “lead to meaningful and fulfilled lives.”

Facial recognition street lights are designed to be covert. ST Engineering has even gone so far as to rename its covert facial recognition program: ST Countenance. Here is some information directly from ST Engineering’s website.

“ST Countenance identifies people from a distance, without being intrusive. Covert and scalable, the system has the capability to be integrated with CCTV systems, reducing awareness that it is in operation.”

ST boasts that their street lights can secretly identify people in real-time 24/7. But it doesn’t end there, ST has also won a contract to install their smart street lights in Hong Kong. ST’s project to turn Hong Kong into a giant surveillance city is called the “Smart City Transformation Initiative.” The following statement is from the company’s press release on the project.

“The team from the Electronics sector will install customized multi-purpose street lights in Kowloon East, Hong Kong’s Smart City Pilot Area. The MPLP will be interconnected with a telecommunication network to form an Internet of Things (IoT) backbone.”

This is just another example of how smart city technology is being used to spy on everyone. Let’s call ST’s “Smart City Transformation Initiative” what it really is: a “Government Surveillance Initiative.”

In a recent press release, ST Engineering revealed that smart street lights are collecting a disturbing amount of information. ST’s President Ravinder Singh boasted:

“This program goes beyond installing lamp posts for smart lighting services. It leverages technology to transform lamp posts into smart infrastructure that will enable smart services to be delivered to the residents in Hong Kong.”

ST’s spying street lights do much, much more than identify everyone. They are also collecting information about the weather, air quality, temperature, vehicle flow related information. They also provide services such as Wi-Fi hotspots, electric vehicle charging facility, information dashboard for maps and directions, real-time traffic updates, and car parking space vacancy. Basically a one-stop shop of convenience.

Earlier this year, ST launched a facial recognition hands-free rail collection system called Automatic Fare Collection (AFC). According to an article in the Singapore Business Review, commuters must submit a picture of their face in order to use the rail system. ST claims their AFC system in Taipei, Taiwan “delivers a seamless travelling experience for commuters.”

ST’s reach goes far beyond Hong Kong and Taiwan. They boast of having a global presence spearheaded by its subsidiary VT Systems in the U.S.

StreetLight Data Inc. a Mobil Analytics company, provides the technology for the government to spy on vehicles on demand. Company officials say they can release accurate on-demand traffic counts for nearly every US road.

“Annual traffic counts available on-demand for any roadway in the USA are considered a ‘holy grail’ by transportation planners and engineers. Historically they have had to task staff or consultants with manually counting, installing equipment or modeling traffic, which is neither feasible nor accurate enough for understanding road congestion at scale.”

“Now available for any road in the USA, whether large or small, and for both rural and urban areas, the company’s 2017 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) counts outperform industry-standard accuracy targets, as published recently in StreetLight’s 2017 AADT Methodology and Validation white paper.”

The rapidly expanding use of surveillance technologies like facial recognition in the rush toward smart cities’ development should have everyone greatly concerned about governments automatically coopting their privacy.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author.

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