by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
Should local governments be forced to obtain public approval before implementing a new surveillance technology? Some of the technology is being used by law enforcement for predicting crime. Now questions are arising about the proliferation of these technologies and what they’re being used for.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in partnership with other digital and civil rights groups have been pushing local policies that would require public approval of new surveillance technologies and regulate their usage. And several cities have recently passed such laws. “Local surveillance systems have long been expanding, and are vulnerable to misuse,” said Matt Cagle, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, who specializes in digital rights. “That’s why it’s really important that local community members demand answers from their elected officials about why these tools are necessary and if there are going to be uses, what sorts of safeguards are place.”
What kinds of things are being used?
Police departments increasingly own cell site simulators, or stingrays, to hack into cell phones. They can read license plates and monitor E-ZPass token usage to create a detailed picture of a person’s driving route. In addition to Closed Circuit Television cameras, light aircraftsand light bulbs with surveillance capacity are giving Jane Jacobs’ idea of “eyes on the street” a new, more insidious meaning. Some new technology can enable police to even see through solid barriers—like car doors an house walls.