Surveillance And Local Police: How Technology Is Evolving Faster Than Regulation


Are used to the idea of that American intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency have enormous capacities to track our phone calls, emails and movements. And we hope that rational and constitutional rules for their use are set by our elected leaders. But our guest journalist John Fast Man says most of us don't realize that thousands of police departments across the country also have access to some really powerful surveillance tools with relatively little oversight. There are devices that scan and store the locations of thousands of auto license plates they encounter randomly on the street. Portable gadgets called Sting rays that Elektronik Lee mimic a cell phone tower and get every mobile phone within range to yield its data and cameras, cameras everywhere increasingly with facial recognition software. Fast ones. New book explores these new technologies, the questions they raise about privacy and the controls he believes citizen should impose on the agencies that use them. His book is we see it all Liberty and justice in an age of perpetual surveillance. John Fast Man is the U. S. Digital editor for the Economist and the author of Two novels. He joins me from his home in suburban New York. John Fast Man. Welcome to Fresh Air. You know this book races? Ah lot of skeptical questions about law enforcement. And I'd like to begin by just having you explain what kind of time you spent with police officers and police chiefs and sheriffs and others. Observing their practice and getting their point of view. Well over the course of my report and going back to 2010. When I was the Atlanta correspondent for the Economist, I've I've written a great deal about criminal justice issues, and I've embedded with a number of departments over the past decade for this book. In particular, I probably spent the most time with the LAPD. I went out with their patrol division. And I spent time with with Sean Danowski, who was then an assistant chief learning about a predictive policing program They use called prayed pole and we can talk about that later. I also embedded for several days with the Newark Police Department. Toe learn about how technology is used by police officers in their day to day job. So one of the one of the challenges and writing about this is that I would hear about this technology from tech companies and from police chiefs from a sort of 30,000 ft view, But I really wanted to see how police officers as they work integrate technology into their daily jobs, how it changes the sort of practice Of being a police officer. Okay, So let's talk about some of these technologies. One of the things, of course, that people are aware of his video surveillance. I mean, there are You know, security cameras in so many places that police typically Consult after there are crimes and given areas, But you're looking at ways that this is being expanded in, particularly in Newark, New Jersey police have something called citizen Virtual Patrol. You don't explain what this is how it works. Sure, the Citizen Virtual Patrol is a network of cameras placed throughout the city. These air public cameras now one of the things when you talk about CCTV cameras, the overall majority of them are privately owned. But these citizen virtual patrol Is the network composed of publicly owned cameras that people can access from a laptop. Now the idea behind this was to sort of allow people to observe and perhaps testified of crimes from behind a veil of anonymity. So it gives people an eye on the entire city and let people see what's going on. And John. When you say people, you mean just ordinary citizens, Anybody can dial up and look through these cameras. So that's right. A citizen anywhere can log into this citizens Virtual Patrol of Newark, So I live about 50 Miles north of New York, and I could log in at my desk and see the feed from any one of the 126 cameras that the New York Public Safety Department is placed around the city. It seems a little intrusive, right? I mean, somebody who just wants to be a busy body. I guess. Other people would say it's no different from looking out a window, right? You're not peeping into somebody's apartment. What concerns does this race? That's right, technically. The cameras don't show anything that an observer on the street couldn't see so that shows public streets. It's not aimed at anyone's apartment. It's not looking inside anyone's window. On the other hand. It does show people's yards, where they have a slightly higher expectation of privacy, and it could provide some information that people wouldn't want known about. For instance, if I'm you know, let's say I had an ex who lived in Newark and I was watching the camera trained on her house. If I saw her leave with some suitcases and then saw no activity at her house for a couple of days. I could surmise that she wasn't there. I could also know when she goes out when she comes home who comes to a house all these things that of course I could. I could find out if I observed her in front of her house. But that would make me visible. This renders me invisible and it lets me observe, lets anyone who logs in observed an enormous swath of the city. So that's another thing. I think we need to think about when we're thinking of police technologies, and that is that any single instance maybe unobjectionable, but when it comes to scale, you're talking about something very different. Do the police think that it's been helpful. Have there been any complaints or any notable benefits to you know, to law enforcement from having all of these windows on the street? The police do think it's been helpful. The police think it helps people keep an eye on their neighborhood. I think the idea was that a citizen of a certain neighborhood could keep an eye on what was happening around her without sort of making herself known to other people around her as as someone who's watching, So it lets her Keep an eye on what's happening around her behind that veil of anonymity and the Newark police think that's good public safety. On the other hand, I spoke to the director almost Sinha, who's the director of the value of New Jersey, who made the same point that that I just made that what we're talking about is it scale quite different and the camera sort of give information about people in their private activities. That you wouldn't necessarily want to know, and that if you did try to find out, you would be observed. This lets you do so anonymously and invisibly and that anonymity. Invisibility has benefits, according to the Newark police, and also detriments, according to U S. C. L U

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