In late October 2022, a police officer in Wichita, Kansas, was arrested for stalking his estranged wife. The officer had been utilizing the police division’s automated license plate reader know-how (ALPR) to observe her actions, with out permission or authority to make use of the know-how. The officer was faraway from the pressure and charged for each stalking and the illegal acts associated to his use of the ALPRs.
In response, the seller for the ALPRs, Flock Security, visited Wichita to handle the scenario. Firm representatives said that this was the primary incidence of abuse that was reported to the corporate since its founding in 2017, and that “Flock is working to develop an alert system that flags suspicious requests but has not done so yet.” The officer’s use of the ALPR system had solely been found after his estranged spouse knowledgeable a good friend, who then informed the police that the officer was stalking her, as neither the division nor the corporate maintained any clear safeguards to forestall the know-how from getting used on this method.
In some ways, the incident in Wichita is frighteningly typical; research reveals that police might commit acts of home violence at practically 15 occasions the speed of non-police. What’s new and weird is just not the officer’s act of stalking, however how he did it: by monitoring his spouse’s automotive via using ALPRs.
License plate readers are pitched as a option to determine “criminals” who is likely to be driving round undetected, particularly amid a supposed (typically unsubstantiated) rise in car-related crimes. Nevertheless, as police throughout america more and more deploy ALPRs to scan license plates and monitor the motion of 1000’s of automobiles daily, we should query their use as a “security” measure. In reality, we should acknowledge the broader growth of surveillance applied sciences for what it’s: a pressure that makes everybody much less protected by upholding white supremacy and different techniques of oppression.
Legislation enforcement businesses, together with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, use ALPRS to determine automobiles on a “scorching record” — an inventory of license plate numbers deemed to be tied to automobiles and other people concerned in prison acts — which permits police to maneuver quicker and extra intentionally to arrest the drivers of these automobiles. The adoption of ALPRs has seeded an enormous personal business the place firms like Motorola Options, ELSAG and Flock Security earn tens of millions by deploying these cameras and amassing billions of information factors yearly.
ALPRs are simply the tip of the iceberg as surveillance cameras, facial recognition applied sciences, and different merchandise more and more monitor individuals 24/7. The officer in Wichita utilizing the surveillance know-how at his disposal towards a violent finish is just not an anomaly. There are quite a few different incidents the place police have used databases to illegally identify people, abused facial recognition technology when trying to identify a suspect and have requested a surveillance tech provider change data leading to someone being charged with murder, amongst different incidents.
Plain and easy, surveillance applied sciences aren’t designed to create safer communities. Creating safer communities would require elevated public funding and sources to handle the foundation causes of poverty and different causes individuals commit acts of violence. As an alternative, surveillance applied sciences create a dragnet to observe practically everybody and gather information on all of our behaviors.
Nevertheless, whereas everyone seems to be being tracked, not everyone seems to be being pursued and criminalized; police select to make use of surveillance applied sciences like ALPRs in opposition to particular, marginalized units of individuals. Police make the subjective resolution as to whom to observe and the way. Police then use these datasets to justify the continued criminalization of Black, Brown, queer, trans, immigrant, disabled and poor communities. Police then use the crime information they produce to name for extra surveillance. The cycle repeats itself. Surveillance applied sciences intensify and exacerbate the criminalization of already closely criminalized individuals.
In actuality, using surveillance applied sciences truly makes communities much less protected. As an alternative of interrupting violence, these applied sciences invite it. First, surveillance instruments improve the presence of police in communities which have been decimated by mass incarceration. Second, surveillance applied sciences improve the potential and menace of police contact, which all the time accommodates the potential for bodily violence. Lastly, by enabling extra interplay between residents and police, these applied sciences open the door for extra residents to be subjected to abusive practices like stop and frisk, arrest, jailing and probably jail time, just because the know-how initiated a police deployment, even when no violence was dedicated.
All of this should even be thought of in opposition to the truth that there isn’t any conclusive proof that any of those applied sciences have a transparent impression on lowering hurt or violence. In criminalized communities, surveillance applied sciences create the circumstances for extra violence by facilitating the aim of policing — punishment, not security.
The ubiquity of digital surveillance know-how is the newest instance of how the state maintains a monopoly on defining what’s the legitimate use of force and violence via legislation, coverage and apply. Elected officers, judges and police create, outline and implement the authorized boundaries which mark when pressure and violence can be utilized in acceptable methods below the legislation. With little public oversight or consciousness, surveillance applied sciences have rapidly been ushered into the realm of what are thought of acceptable instruments to be used by police, colleges, and different public businesses.
Within the summary, proponents solely converse to how these instruments will probably be used to observe individuals performing behaviors and actions that are at present deemed to be prison. The rise of computing applied sciences birthed new strategies of surveillance which police and different entities have carried out with little understanding of the total scope of the potential for invasive violence every instrument has. Elected officers and legislation enforcement declare that these surveillance applied sciences are urgently essential as a result of they may assist to curb violence and promote group security. However we should ask, whose lives are made safer by these instruments?
The information from Wichita illustrates one other layer of the state’s calculation concerning the official use of pressure: Elected officers who approve surveillance know-how contracts worth order greater than security. Surveillance applied sciences inherently lack controls and preventative oversight is sort of not possible. The one accountability measure inside these surveillance instruments is an audit log of police use after the know-how is used. Police can make use of these instruments for their very own designs after which, if caught, express regret later. This solely turns into a difficulty for officers in the event that they overstep the road on what the state defines as acceptable and are caught doing so, as within the Wichita case. These instruments are violent, irrespective of if the instruments are used correctly or improperly.
The dearth of controls concerning using surveillance raises a query: When there may be substantial proof that police commit acts of home violence at larger charges than non-police, why is the state willfully giving them applied sciences which have the potential to allow extra hurt? On the floor, it doesn’t seem that folks experiencing home violence, for instance, are included within the consideration of whose lives are worthy of being made safer.
Additional, the scope for abuse and violence extends past the weather of the Wichita case. If a police officer estranged from his spouse can use ALPR information to observe her, what in regards to the avowed white supremacist police officer? What may a D.C. Metropolitan Police Division officer, who’s a member or sympathizer of the Proud Boys, do with entry to facial recognition know-how after he snaps just a few photographs at a Satisfaction march or Black Lives Matter protest? What if the supervisor of that officer can be a member of the Proud Boys and easily overlooks using this highly effective know-how to acquire a protester’s id and their dwelling handle?
At this level, this state of affairs might solely be a hypothetical, however there are many avowed white supremacists who work in law enforcement, and the January 6 tried coup by white supremacists ought to verify that it is a very actual menace as an officer from the D.C. police actively shared intel with the Proud Boys leading up to the attempted coup. Whether or not carried out or facilitated by police, the dogmatic and widespread adoption of invasive surveillance applied sciences may present sufficient intelligence to allow a large white supremacist assault, just like the Greensboro massacre of 1979, or a large coverup of patterns of racist violence, like Jon Burge’s tortuous regime as a Chicago Police Department commander.
What the state defines as a official use of pressure is just not steady and might shift. Essentially the most evident instance of how the requirements of official surveillance can rapidly shift is the current restrictions on entry to abortion. Earlier than the 2022 Supreme Court docket’s Dobbs resolution, searching for abortion companies was a constitutionally protected act. Now, in lots of states, it’s thought of prison habits. ALPRs, which had been utilized by the officer in Wichita, may nicely be utilized by officers to trace individuals crossing state borders searching for abortion companies. The Dobbs resolution created the circumstances for states to criminalize a broader set of individuals. In doing so, the mass surveillance instruments already deployed grew to become extra probably violent to a brand new set of individuals in a single day. The anti-transgender laws push at present sweeping the nation is one other instance.
Along with police and governments, one other main participant within the consideration of surveillance applied sciences are the businesses peddling these merchandise. Surveillance is worthwhile. Flock Security alone has raised no less than $380 million in venture capital funding since its founding in 2017 and has been valued at $3.5 billion. The profitability of the surveillance instruments developed and offered by firms like Flock Security, Motorola Options, Fog Knowledge Science, Clearview AI and SoundThinking is an prolonged layer of the prison-industrial complicated. The state not solely has outlined what’s authorized and acceptable violence but in addition has made that violence essential for financial progress. And since capitalism and the prison-industrial complicated have all the time been racialized, the violence of surveillance capitalism most closely targets individuals of shade, profiting off of hurt inflicted on Black and Brown communities.
Whereas the road on what is suitable violence can change, what hasn’t modified is the crucial of the state to guard company earnings, white supremacy, and different techniques of oppression. This could present a reminder that when the state guarantees security, we have to ask: “Whose security?”
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