The struggle between technology and privacy is not new, but it takes on enhanced importance when it comes to government policing activities.
Law enforcement agencies are already pushing the constitutional envelope through their use of technology in a number of areas. One ongoing debate surrounds the use of drones by the police, with questions arising concerning the legitimacy of their use for surveillance and how to deal with people and property inadvertently captured in footage that might be used as evidence.
Then there is the use of “stingrays,” also known as cell site simulators, which simulate cell towers and scoop up location and identifying data from all cellphones within the area, allowing police to track suspects — and potentially thousands of others as well.
License plate readers are another form of dragnet surveillance, providing potentially sensitive information about the location and movements of individuals without the requirement to obtain a warrant.
In a similar vein, the FBI is amassing a vast facial recognition and biometric information database not only for its own use, but also for state and local police agencies. Last year, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report revealed that the database had been populated with the aid of 200 million driver’s license photos from 16 states, and that an additional 18 states were in negotiations to offer access to their DMV photos. Thus, a massive database is being made not just of criminals, but rather of law-abiding citizens — without their knowledge.
In the not-too-distant future, facial recognition technology may be embedded in police body cameras, too. Device-maker Motorola is now working with artificial intelligence software startup Neurala (whose founder’s research was partially funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA) to develop such a product, and competitor Axon (formerly Taser) is pursuing similar products.
Rhode Island just passed a law allowing warrantless searches of its prescription drug monitoring database, and New Jersey is considering a similar law, though it has drawn criticism from Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
“You shouldn’t just be able to look at it for jollies,” he told the Associated Press. “If you have a case and you have some probable cause, OK that’s fine. Go to a court and get a judge to give you permission to look at that information.”
Roseanne Scotti, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, was…