Home>Articles>City of San Diego Awarded GE Mass Surveillance Contract Without Oversight

Smart Street Lamp San Diego (GE video)

City of San Diego Awarded GE Mass Surveillance Contract Without Oversight

San Diego is now home to the largest mass surveillance operation across the country

By Katy Grimes, January 13, 2020 4:31 pm

While the California Legislature passed and Governor Brown signed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) into law in 2018, ostensibly to help California consumers protect their online data, state and local government doesn’t appear to be required to comply with this law.

Recently we learned that the Department of Motor Vehicles is earning more than $50-million a year by selling California drivers’ personal information, and the public is not offered an opt-out option of sharing personal information.

4,000 “CityIQ Nodes” installed by GE

Now we learn that San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott gave the approval to General Electric to outfit 4,000 new “smart street lights” with cameras and microphones in 2017. These CityIQ Nodes are listed on this city map and in the screen shot below.

The City of San Diego appears to now be in the business of enabling mega-data companies to cash in on city residents’ privacy.

San Diego city map of smart street lights. (San Diego)

The City paid $30 million for the contract. But the larger issue is that General Electric has already made more than $1 billion dollars selling San Diego residents’ data to Wall Street.

The City of San Diego gave what appears to be unrestricted rights to the private data, according to the contract (below).

Apparently City Attorney Elliott never told the Mayor and City Council of the mass surveillance capabilities.

Mara Elliott owns stock in GE

San Diego is now home to the largest mass surveillance operation across the country.

General Electric and its subsidiaries* have access to all the processed data in perpetuity with no oversight.

Law enforcement uses of the cameras is fine, provided it is done within the law and doesn’t violate the constitution.

Now we have learned Elliott owns between $10,000 and $100,000 in GE stock, according to her FPPC Form  700.

Mara Elliott Form 700 indicates she owns stock in GE in apparent violation of Article 7 of city charter (FPPC)

Article 7 of the City of San Diego Charter (below), which under section 94 states,“Pursuant to state law, no officers of the City, whether elected or appointed, financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity. Any officer who willfully violates this paragraph shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall immediately forfeit his or her office and be thereafter forever barred and disqualified from holding any elective or appointive office in the service of the City.”

The section also reads that ANY contract entered into in violation of this Section shall be void. “All contracts entered into in violation of this Section shall be void and shall not be enforceable against said City.”

“A criminal enterprise”

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott (You tube) approved the GE contract

Attorney Julie Biggs calls this a criminal enterprise. Biggs notes that the San Diego city charter changed after Elliott took office, and the real issue is that it is supposed to keep officers in line and transparent in their actions on behalf of the city.

Additionally, Biggs said a council member recused himself because he had stock with GE, because someone advised him.

Additionally, Biggs said she would hope the City Attorney would put the transactions in the record, but “in this case, that didn’t occur.”

Biggs, who was also once a City Attorney, said every day she looked in the mirror and said, ‘I am an officer of the court. What is my duty?'”

“That’s how a city attorney should begin each day,” Biggs said. “The duty is to make sure the council knows what they are doing, and it can be defended. If it can’t be defended, the other duty is to take the information to the council and get permission to get law enforcement involved.”

“If it is a close call, always go with the conservative decision. the appearance of impropriety is almost as important as the impropriety.”

here is what the law provides:

(a) An officer or employee shall not be deemed to be interested in a contract if his or her interest is any of the following:

(1) The ownership of less than 3 percent of the shares of a corporation for profit, provided that the total annual income to him or her from dividends, including the value of stock dividends, from the corporation does not exceed 5 percent of his or her total annual income, and any other payments made to him or her by the corporation do not exceed 5 percent of his or her total annual income.”

Surveillance, racial profiling, and sharing of data

Former Public Defender Geneviéve Jones-Wright, and former candidate for San Diego County district attorney, and Legal Counsel to Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, is very concerned about the surveillance and racial profiling. “The city attorney’s glaring conflict of interest appears to be what’s preventing policymakers from addressing the coalition’s concerns,” said Geneviéve Jones-Wright. “We will be asking the mayor and city council directly to hire outside legal counsel immediately so we can get our concerns resolved.”

General Electric has a video with the City of San Diego ostensibly about San Diego becoming 100 percent renewable, by converting their street lights to GE LED, and equipping 3200 of the street lights with sensors allows the city to understand how well they are doing at achieving this goal. There is no mention of surveillance in the video.

In the GE APPS CENTER, data has been given to 3rd party app developers for free. the website for 3rd party app developers who have access to all the data for free.

Many are concerned about the collection of the data, and how it will be used and by whom.

As attorney Julie Biggs said, “the attorney’s role is to go right down the line and make sure the council members are informed, and then step back and let them make the decisions… to make sure the council knows what they are doing and why.”

Attorney Cory Briggs, a candidate for City Attorney, told NBC 7 San Diego in October, “This was presented as an energy efficiency update to street lights,” said Briggs, who’s a candidate for City Attorney. “It turns out that they’re gathering the data. They’ve been giving it to the police, but they’re also [potentially] giving it to Wall Street with no constraints whatsoever. Well, that’s exactly what Facebook was doing when it was giving data to big tech, so that people could take it and use it for political purposes.”

“Briggs said the fact that councilmembers are now want a moratorium on the project confirms that they were not provided with the information necessary to make their decision.”

Briggs also blames current City Attorney Mara Elliott for failing to inform council members.

Former city attorney Jan Goldsmith, who was blamed by Mara Elliott’s spokesperson for the contract with GE, sent the following statement to NBC 7:

“Ms. Elliott sat with the City Council on December 13, 2016, when the Council heard First Reading of the Ordinance approving the contract. Then, she sat with the City Council on January 10, 2017, when the Ordinance approving the contract was actually adopted on Second Reading.”

“The Smart Streetlights contract was implemented through a series of design and build contracts approved by the City Council on July 17, 2017.”

“I was not present at any of these City Council meetings and did not prepare for them because I was out of office,” wrote Goldsmith.

The NBC 7 article had a follow up quote from General Electric:

“The data collected from those nodes is exclusively owned by the city, and any assertion otherwise is wholly inaccurate. 

Unless explicitly instructed to do so by the city in accordance with all applicable law, Current does not provide that data to any third parties.”

*UPDATE: California Globe was contacted by GE Corporate to clarify that GE no longer owns Current. “We announced the sale to American Industrial Partners back in Nov. 2018 and the sale closed in April 2019,” they said.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Spread the news:


20 thoughts on “City of San Diego Awarded GE Mass Surveillance Contract Without Oversight

  1. This is a HUGE story. Very glad to see it dragged out kicking and screaming into the light. Of course this stuff has to be painstakingly unearthed because the corrupt skunks know they’re doing something terribly wrong so they bury it. Seems there is enough here for the San Diego City Atty to be criminally charged. Sure hope so.

    The destructive termites have been working overtime in San Diego lately, it seems. Of course the infamous Lorena (“AB5”) Gonzalez represents the area, so look out for more trouble there. I also heard yesterday on KFI-AM that SANDAG (San Diego Assoc of Govts, an unelected body that makes regional transportation decisions) recently passed a $90M bond to put in additional bike lanes across the county that, according to a dissenting supervisor who was interviewed on the show, will cost $5.5 MILLION a MILE. Gee, doesn’t that sound like way too much money to spend on the ugly green paint we see when these useless projects come into our towns? Presumably the county is already paying for the labor with public works employees who stand ready to paint and stencil. Desmond also tells us that Lorena Gonzalez passed a bill last year that weights more heavily certain SANDAG votes. The project wouldn’t have passed but for that. “A cute trick,” interviewer Ken Chiampou quipped.
    Supervisor Jim Desmond on the $90 Million SANDAG bike lane boondoggle. John & Ken, KFI-AM 640:

  2. “General Electric has already made more than $1 billion dollars selling San Diego residents’ data to Wall Street.”

    What is the source for this claim? And what does it even mean? “Wall Street” isn’t an entity that can buy things.

      1. This link does not show that GE sold private data for $1B or any other number. It says it sold the subsidiary that did this. Those are very different things. Where in the contract is this sale of private data?

        I clicked on this article because this issue is very important to me. It is shocking enough that the city of San Diego installed cameras and microphones on 40,000 street lights. But there’s no data for the charges against GE than I can see. What sources do you actually have?

  3. We have a nearly identical scandal here in Sacramento stemming from the City’s 2017 agreement with Verizon to make Sacramento one of the nation’s first 5G “smart” cities. https://5gawarenessnow.com/verizon-sacramento-master-licencing-agreement/

    You can CTRL+F search the 103 page document for terms like “data,” “intelligent,” and “video” to see that the antenna network being installed in the City is collecting and storing various user data and that the City of Sacramento is responsible for obtaining any required consent. This consent was never obtained. Heck, the public is still largely unaware these antennas are being installed.

    I have made multiple public records requests to the City regarding their data collection policy regarding the agreement with Verizon. Those requests have been ignored. We need more media outlets to expose this problem as this process is being replicated all across the country I am sure. Our City officials are selling out our public infrastructure at currently discounted rates (due to recent FCC orders limiting the amount local governments can charge to house this equipment) in order to harvest our user data to facilitate corporate profits, and receive kickbacks in various forms. Data is the new oil, and government has teamed up with big tech to “drill, baby, drill.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *