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Santa Monica mall cams raise privacy concerns

January 24, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
New technology brings new controversy to Santa Monica Place mall. The mall's parking garage is equipped with the nation's first camera system to help you find your car, but who else is watching? Some say the convenience comes with a loss of privacy.Shoppers at Santa Monica Place who forget where they parked their cars now have a high-tech helping hand. The mall has installed the nation's first camera-based system to locate lost cars.

"I think the system is terrific for those people who need it," said Santa Monica resident Brien Bigelow.

Drivers can simply punch in their full or partial license plate number into a touch screen at one of the find-your-car kiosk inside the parking garage, and a photo of the car and its location pops up.

But there are concerns that a system that helps prevent you from wandering through parking lots searching for your car, will also help someone else find out personal information about you.

"It will help me, because I am very forgetful," said Venice Beach resident Wendy Moore. "So I think it's awesome, for that reason. It does worry me a little bit that there's cameras, and it can get all that information. But you know, that's the future."

The system uses a network of cameras and a computer that records every visit to the mall.

"I really don't mind that they're taping me, because actually where I live in Marina del Rey there's cameras everywhere, and I actually feel more comfortable that way," said Marina del Rey resident Teri Hirano.

But some fear the technology could be used to collect and share personal information on consumers.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said: "The company is free to share with police, data aggregation firms, and potentially information can end up in the hands of bosses, ex-spouses, and debt collectors."

"I'm not for it, no. Honestly, I have a smartphone and I put where I'm parked. You can see it right now, what color the sign is, what level," said Bigelow.