West Jordan City Council considers electronic-tracking sensors amid privacy concerns

West Jordan • The City Council is considering a proposal to install sensors that would collect real-time data by tracking electronic devices' Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals.

Council members will hold a public hearing and bring back the idea of signing a contract with Blyncsy for a test period.

Blyncsy is a Salt Lake City-based start-up that has installed sensors in cities across five states. These sensors are installed on light poles and pick up a customized electronic identifier each time a device passes under the sensor. This data allows cities and businesses to track traffic data more accurately than other methods, so the data can be used for economic development, finding faster routes for police and firefighters and event planning.

CEO Mark Pittman proposed a $15,000 pilot program that would install 30 sensors around the city for a three-month trial period.

Besides paying the installation fees, though, the city would not be paying for the sensors. By law the city cannot own the sensors, so Blyncsy would give the city the data for its benefit. Blyncsy, then would make a profit by selling the data to local businesses who can use the data to improve their strategies.

"I'm impressed," said Mayor Kim Rolfe. "This tool couldn't be replaced for near the cost." Rolfe recalled once standing on a street corner counting cars because he did not think a $50,000 Utah Department of Transportation study was accurate. He was excited by the possibilities presented by Pittman.

Several council members, however, expressed concern over individuals' privacy.

Pittman reassured the council, saying Blyncsy does not know individuals' identities. Electronics give off a personalized electronic identifier through their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, but these signals do not include a person's name.

Pittman also explained that legislation was passed in the 2016 legislative session that prevents Blyncsy's data from being used for crime cases or to track people. According to HB369, government entities can collect anonymous electronic data, but the data cannot be used in judicial proceedings. This prevents Blyncsy from being put in circumstances similar to those seen in Silicon Valley, Calif, when the FBI ordered Apple to unlock the San Bernadino mass shooter's Phone. Apple refused and the legal battle ended only after a third party succeeded in unlocking the phone.

Individuals can opt out their electronics from Blyncsy's data gathering on the company's website. Pittman also said that devices that have their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned off cannot be tracked.

The public has already shown concern over the proposal. City Council members agreed to further consider the proposal as long as the public is educated on and approves of the sensors.

Park City has 60 sensors in the city, which were installed for around $75,000. The sensors have been used to track data for Sundance Film Festival, which is helping the city plan for future events.