Street lights to spy on everything that happens in Vegas?

What happens in Vegas stays with the authorities? Las Vegas is installing Intellistreets, which are street lights that have many talents -- including the ability to record sound and shoot video.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read
Innocent enough? MyNews3 Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Las Vegas is truly one of the world's great cities.

It's a place where you can let your hair down, or even wear someone else's, without anyone thinking this is abnormal.

Now, though, there's a frisson of doubt as to whether what happens in Vegas will stay there. Or, more accurately, whether what happens in Vegas will all fall into the dancing laps of the authorities.

Las Vegas, you see, has invested in Intellistreets. These aren't streets that carry you along, so that you don't have to put one foot in front of the other.

Instead, this is a lighting system that, as MyNews3 reported, enjoys "all sorts of fancy features."

These lights can broadcast messages and play music. Which sounds very Vegas.

However, they have other aspects: they can shoot video and record sound.

So, in these days of rampant surveillance and ruptured trust, some are feeling a touch concerned that this is just covert spying.

This being Vegas, you will understand the words of Neil Rohleder of the city's Public Works Department: "We want to develop an experience for the people who come downtown."

But what kind of experience are they truly developing? The company behind Intellistreets, Illuminating Concepts has as its motto: "Assisting in the Creation of Memorable Environments since 1981." The word "memorable" might interest some.

Las Vegas public works Director Jorge Cervantes told MyNews3 that this was all entirely innocent: "Right now our intention is not to have any cameras or recording device. It's just to provide output out there, not to get any feed or video feed coming back."

Those who feel their privacy has been co-opted by everyone from a Mark Zuckerberg to a nameless spy of a nameless government will focus only on two of Cervantes's words: "Right now."

Every disruptive technology brings with it the potential for disruption of an uncomfortable kind.

In the case of Intellistreets, it is controlled from an iPad. So should anyone have nefarious intentions, they ought to be able to enact them quite easily.

Indeed, the explanatory video of how the system works spends most of its time presenting a compelling case for its excellence.

Near the end, however, there is this phrase: "Intellistreets also enables a myriad of homeland security features."

We're never truly safe, are we? Not even from ourselves.

Some, then, will be hoping that what happens in Vegas won't be so interesting that it might fascinate, well, someone out there?