The Street Lights are Watching You

Every move you make every breath you take; the lights are watching you. In Germany, street lights are being equipped with sensors that read and interpret reality. So-called smart-streets can monitor all your movements in public spaces. Documentary maker Nora Bauer.

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Street lights with sensors are a more subtle surveillance device than cameras. The right to use video surveillance is legally restricted, and labor intensive. Street lights ooutfitted with special chips, sensors and connected to wireless network is more cost-effective, and can gather a lot more information, even license-plates. Authorities can keep track of what kind of movement is going on, the behavior of cars, as well as the movement of people in an out of the area.

It began as a means to save energy by automatically turning lights on and off, and was developed with practical services that can tell you where there is an available parking spot. But has obviously become a setup of public surveillance. 

The German radio journalist Nora Bauer unveiled in a radio documentary that several of the street lights in Cologne could in fact be used in surveillance of public areas. At the ViSmedia conference Bauer held a presentation about the ethical issues about using street light to monitor streets and gather data. 

“Every really important network in the history of technology has been set up on top of some kind of already existing infrastructure, for example the telegraph and then telephone were set up on railroads. These four billion street lights are the existing infrastructure and can easily function as a platform, just sitting there waiting for a network to be built on top.”


Read Bauer`s presentation here

The street light manufacturer Philips have developed several «smart streets» in cities around the world. In the video below you can watch how the technology works in the city of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles blazed the trail by connecting over 100,000 street lights with Philips CityTouch

Philips Lighting and the City of Los Angeles are currently exploring new applications that build on the CityTouch connected lighting system. CityTouch is an open system that manages more than 100,000 street lights across the city. Its flexibility allows for the addition of new applications and data streams to the digital ecosystem.