Technology influences every part of modern life with the intention of making things better. However, the prolific use of devices has raised concerns about privacy and how the authorities may use that information.
In particular, law enforcement’s increasing access to cameras on personal devices for surveillance is a growing issue. What should people know about the police use of video evidence?
Plans to increase surveillance
Major cities are initiating “Real-Time Crime Centers” for their policing work. These centers take a step beyond the traditional crimefighting tasks and add innovative resources to apprehend and prosecute alleged criminals.
Key technologies include not only public surveillance video but also footage from the devices of private citizens and companies. These centers can facilitate accessing recordings from cameras on doorbells, self-driving cars and drones.
Interestingly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation finds that police forces in some areas are already getting more footage from private cameras than public ones. A contributing reason is that device owners can specifically grant law enforcement programs easy access. In some cases, live streams are also possible.
Specific concerns for citizens’ rights
The primary concern is that law enforcement can request privately made recordings from third-party companies that store videos on their cloud servers. Police no longer have to request such evidence from an individual device owner. Therefore, questions about unreasonable search and seizure may arise, especially if law enforcement seeks to access information from a defendant’s own devices.
Furthermore, police will use the footage alongside other technology that could prove problematic. For example, facial recognition and gunshot detection software might provide misleading data about what actually happened on a scene or who was there. Naturally, members of minorities and marginalized groups wonder if such resources will have disproportionate use in their communities.
Advocacy organizations are bringing these concerns to the fore, but the outcome of their protests remains up in the air. In the meantime, defendants in legal cases will have tough decisions to make about challenging the legality of such recordings or providing evidence to support their arguments.