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Children’s Health Defense (CHD) on Monday sued the City of Los Angeles (LA) for failing to respond to CHD’s request for documents related to LA’s smart city initiatives

American opposition to “smart cities” and all the costs, privacy violations, environmental, health, and safety risks associated with them has been ongoing for many years now (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).  Nevertheless, legislators have been helping to fund them with hundreds of millions in federal grants.  The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has helped as well.  Earlier this year, “smart cities” fan and U.S. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg also announced hundreds of millions more in funding for them.  Los Angeles residents want more answers on how their hometown’s “smart city initiatives” will affect their privacy and are now receiving help in getting them.

CHD Sues Los Angeles Over Refusal to Release ‘Smart City’ Documents

Children’s Health Defense, along with two Los Angeles residents concerned about how the city’s smart city technologies may be violating their rights and those of their children, are seeking documents detailing the city’s current projects and future plans.

By Brenda Baletti, Ph.D.

Children’s Health Defense (CHD) on Monday sued the City of Los Angeles (LA) for failing to respond to CHD’s request for documents related to LA’s smart city initiatives.

According to the complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, key departments in city government violated the California Public Records Act (CPRA) by failing to promptly respond to CHD’s request to produce electronic records from 2019-2023 for communications, programs, committees and technologies related to smart city planning.

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Most of the city’s 20 departments involved in smart city planning provided the documents CHD requested in April.

But the Information Technology Agency, Bureau of Street Lighting, LA World Airports, Bureau of Street Services, Bureau of Engineering and the LA Police Department, which likely have the most sensitive information regarding the smart city rollout, have not produced the requested documents.

CHD alleges those departments violated the legal time guidelines for responding to the records requests.

“What the City of Los Angeles wants to do is [build] a full-scale smart city, and all of this is laid out in the strategy documents,” attorney Gregory Glaser, who filed the complaint, told The Defender.

But very little information about how the city is implementing that strategy is being shared publicly, Glaser said.

CHD, along with two LA residents concerned about how the smart city technologies may be violating their rights and those of their children, are seeking documents detailing the city’s current projects and future plans.

Glaser said the petitioners have waited patiently for months for the city to produce the records. “But the city has not done so,” he said, “so we are forced to sue them.”

The departments all acknowledged receipt of the request and most departments indicated they would fulfill the requests.

The Bureau of Street Services informed CHD that the request was not under its jurisdiction. CHD contested this claim, given that key existing and planned smart city projects are directly implemented by that bureau.

Glaser said he expects the documents to include communications between the city and its contractors, such as Amazon, on the technology rollouts. This includes contracts and accounting records that will show the exact nature of those relationships.

Based on the documents already recovered from other city agencies, Glaser anticipates the information “will surprise and even shock Los Angeles residents as to how much data the city of Los Angeles is collecting and the ways artificial intelligence (AI) is used to process people’s data.”

CHD asked the court to direct the respondents to make the requested information available within 14-60 days, depending on the documents requested.

‘Reinforcing police power and squelching political dissent’

In 2020, LA launched its SmartLA 2028 initiative, promising to solve a host of “urban challenges” — from racial injustice to natural disasters to climate change — using smart technologies to create “a highly digital and connected city” by 2028.

2028 is set as the target year because LA will host the 2028 Summer Olympics and plans to provide tourists with a “digital Olympic experience,” according to the SmartLA 2028 strategy document.

The document outlines in broad strokes a vision for the city that Olympics consumers will visit — a smart city built for LA to compete in the digital economy.

The plan includes a panoply of digital infrastructure, including a surveillance camera network that can capture individual face and voice signatures, and can be used for law enforcement or could be marketed to third parties.

It also includes technologies like Amazon Sidewalk — which connects private wireless signals — digital payment platforms for city services, the use of AI for city contracting and more.

LA’s use of the Olympics as justification for expanding digital surveillance powers is part of a global trend.

“Local and national security officials over the past several decades have used the Olympics to generate huge sums of cash and secure special tools and laws that would be difficult to acquire during normal political times,” political science professor Jules Boykoff wrote in The Washington Post.

“These new laws can stay on the books and technologies remain in the hands of the state after the Games, reinforcing police power and squelching political dissent,” he wrote.

In France, large-scale, real-time video surveillance cameras will use AI to detect suspicious activity on the streets of Paris during next summer’s Olympics, for the first time in Europe.

Politico reported Monday that the 2024 Paris Olympics will be “a golden opportunity” for the video surveillance industry to test its products and services and showcase what it can do in terms of AI-powered surveillance.

Full article: City Sued for Refusing to Release “Smart City” Documents; Litigation Focuses on 4th Amendment Violations

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