The LED Lights at Newark Airport Are Watching You

February 24, 2014
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The LED Lights at Newark Airport Are Watching You

The National Security Agency (NSA) spying on our every movement has been much in the news lately, and now I can report that LED light fixtures are emerging on the list of potentially snooping, networked things.

Specifically, the New York Times reports that the clean, bright light of newly installed LED fixtures illuminating Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport, in New Jersey, are part of a new wireless network that’s watching visitors.

The 171 LED fixtures are apparently the backbone of a system that feeds data into software that can spot long lines, read license plates, identify suspicious activity and alert the appropriate staff.

What do you know about LED lights?

The light-emitting diode (LED) is one of today’s most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technologies. Quality LED light bulbs last longer, are more durable, and offer comparable or better light quality than other types of lighting.

LED is a highly energy efficient lighting technology and has the potential to fundamentally change the future of lighting in the United States. Residential LEDs, especially ENERGY STAR rated products, use at least 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.

Now, these amazing lights are also being used to track passengers at Newark Liberty International Airport.

The New York Times reports that the new light fixtures are part of a new wireless network that collects and feeds data into software that can spot long lines, recognize license plates and even identify suspicious activity, sending alerts to the appropriate staff.

The project is still in its early stages, but executives with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, are already talking about expanding it to other terminals and buildings.

Remember the rubbish bins of London set to snoop on innocent citizens? Of course, the UK is the country that boasts one CCTV surveillance camera for every 11 people.

Then there’s the story of police in San Jose, Calif., wanting to tap into property owners’ private security cameras.

These are just a few examples of our privacy being invaded, with the LED lights at Newark International Airport being the most recent case. Systems like the Port Authority’s, developed by a company called Sensity Systems, could soon be more widely available.

For the future, Las Vegas is testing a street lighting system that can broadcast sound, and plans to use it mainly to control lighting and play music or to issue security alerts at a pedestrian mall.

Copenhagen is installing 20,000 streetlamps as part of a system that could eventually control traffic, monitor carbon dioxide levels and detect when garbage cans are full.

The trend is expected to accelerate as the fixtures become cheaper and more sophisticated. Navigant Consulting, a firm based in Chicago, has estimated that cities’ interest will prompt more than $100 billion in spending on the technology over the next 10 years.

Sensity’s leading executive told the New York Times that the company is looking at video-based security, public safety, parking management, predictive maintenance and more.

Are privacy and data security concerns being taken under consideration? Are you comforted by the idea of more surveillance in airports, or have you had just about enough of the spread of surveillance technology?

Privacy advocates point out that the installation of these security systems raises the specter of technology racing ahead of the ability to harness it, running risks of invading privacy and mismanaging information.

Others argue that we should have no expectation of privacy when we go to an airport, other than the restroom. They add that if you don’t want to be observed, you shouldn’t go to a airport; after all, it wasn’t so long ago that planes were used as weapons.

Indeed, at all the airports I’ve been to recently, there have been visible security cameras monitoring all entrances and exits, with a sticker below notifying everyone that the cameras are connected to CCTV and monitored by airport security.

What do you think? Is Newark installing necessary security systems, or are these LED light an invasion of our privacy?


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