Rapid advances in video surveillance are reshaping the relationship between police and citizens in alarming ways.

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Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, Professor, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law
APRIL 4, 2018 | 3:00 PM

Predictive analytics and new surveillance technologies are already transforming policing, helping prioritize who police target, where they patrol, and how they investigate. But police practices will be entirely revolutionized when video surveillance cameras gain new artificial intelligence capabilities.

AI will soon allow for new forms of tracking and monitoring in ways that could reshape the balance of power between police and citizens. This is not meant to sow fears about sentient computers or sensationalize the threat of new technology. …

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90-Day Crime Map, Oakland PD (City of Oakland)

Sunday, the New York Times published a well-meaning op-ed about the fears of racial bias in artificial intelligence and predictive policing systems. The author, Bärí A. Williams, should be commended for engaging the debate about building “intelligent” computer systems to predict crime, and for framing these developments in racial justice terms. One thing we have learned about new technologies is that they routinely replicate deep-seated social inequalities — including racial discrimination. In just the last year, we have seen facial recognition technologies unable to accurately identify people of color, and familial DNA databases challenged as discriminatory to over-policed populations. Artificial intelligence policing systems will be no different. If you unthinkingly train A.I. …

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Illustration by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (CC BY 3.0)

Why do we let courts and not citizens define our privacy rights from police surveillance? In the face of invasive big data technologies, criminal courts routinely struggle with the definition of what a Fourth Amendment “reasonable expectation of privacy” means in the digital age. Yet, legislators at the local level remain silent, refusing to strengthen privacy protections from growing government surveillance.

The highest profile example of this puzzle will reach the U.S. Supreme Court on November 29th, when a lawyer for Timothy Carpenter — a convicted armed robber — will argue to protect the Fourth Amendment for all Americans. The constitutional issue is whether police need a probable cause warrant to request historic cell-site data from cell phone companies to prove that Mr. Carpenter robbed (ironically enough) a series of cell phone stores. Mr. Carpenter argued that the demand for 127 days of cell location data was a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. The government, in opposition, argued that Mr. …

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Photo credit: West Midlands Police

A book excerpt from The Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement (NYU Press 2017)

In downtown Manhattan, an experimental prosecution unit has begun rethinking how to reduce violent crime. Under the leadership of dis­trict attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office created the Crime Strategies Unit (CSU) to target the bad apples in com­munities and take them out by any means necessary. Call it the “Al Capone” approach to crime, only the targets are young men suspected of violence, not national mob bosses. …


Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

Law Professor, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law. Author, “The Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement” @ProfFerguson

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