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The Shadowy Side of LED Streetlights

As LED streetlights proliferate, they come with the promise of more efficient smart city service. But they also raise new opportunities for surveillance.
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Mike Blake/Reuters

Blinking down at passersby in traffic intersections and lining dark alleys, sleek, energy-efficient LED streetlights have begun to replace old-fashioned, glitchy ones. It’s part of a wave of smart city initiatives sweeping the country: Already, LEDs are strung above parts of places like Baltimore, San Diego, Kansas City and Bethlehem. Now, Portland, Maine, is in a race with Schenectady and several other cities to become the first to convert their entire light grid.

But as more communities adopt government-funded, eco-friendly LED lights as an environmental measure, some worry that the eyes on these bulbs may be a bit too literal. As they illuminate the streets, they could be watching—and recording—what happens below with attached cameras, microphones, and other devices.