Georgia Power plans to install high-tech security cameras on its power poles and rent them out to the public within months, according to Sandy Springs City Councilmember Tibby DeJulio. His report on the plan at the Jan. 17 City Council meeting triggered immediate policy and legal concerns from other city officials.

DeJulio said he heard about the program from a co-worker after talking with various homeowners who want to set up private camera systems but find them too expensive. He said he called Georgia Power and got a confirmation and details about the program, set to launch in March, from a company official whom he did not identify. The program would provide high-resolution cameras, capable of reading license plates and storing footage for a week that “can be sent to the police department,” and rent them to the public for $200, he said.

“Georgia Power, at the end of March, is going into the business,” DeJulio said. “They’re going to put security cameras on their own…[electric line] poles.”

City Manager John McDonough immediately noted the city has a policy requiring council approval of any security cameras placed in the public right of way, adding he is “not sure how [the reported plan] jibes” with that. And City Attorney Wendell Willard voiced the underlying legal concern: “Right to privacy—I don’t want anyone checking on me.”

Georgia Power did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. The websites of Georgia Power and its parent company, Southern Company, do not appear to contain any references to the program. Georgia Power’s “Marketplace” website, which offers discounted energy efficiency equipment, does sell a $199 Nest Cam brand outdoor security camera.

According to press releases and media reports, Southern Company once operated a security business called PowerCall that provided high-tech outdoor security cameras to the Mall of Georgia and Buckhead’s Lenox Square Mall. Southern Company sold PowerCall about 16 years ago, with a provision to refer its energy customers to the new owner for security services, according to an Atlanta Business Chronicle report at the time.

DeJulio said he was surprised to hear of the new Georgia Power program and how soon it supposedly will start. “They’re in testing on this right now,” he said.

On one hand, DeJulio said it sounds like a great deal for homeowners who want a security system without big expenses. On the other hand, he agreed with Willard’s hesitancy about privacy and legal issues.

“The thing that came immediately to my mind was right to privacy,” DeJulio said. “Is this a violation of [the] right to privacy?”

Willard said the city policy about review of cameras on public right of ways came from homeowners groups that wanted to install private security camera systems on the street. He and Mayor Rusty Paul noted that at the least, the reported Georgia Power program would require revision of the franchise agreements that allow the power company to lease pole space on city right of ways.

“We’re not unilaterally opposed to cameras,” but there must be a review process, Mayor Paul said. “When you get into the law of capturing someone’s image,” it becomes complicated quickly, he said.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.