The police body camera industry is the latest to jump on the artificial intelligence bandwagon, bringing new powers and privacy concerns to a controversial technology augmented by a need to hold police accountable after numerous high-profile killings of innocent people.
Last week, Taser, a stun gun company which has recently become an industry leader in body-mounted cameras, announced the creation of its own in-house artificial intelligence division. The new department will utilize the company’s acquisition of two AI-focused firms: Dextro, a New York-based computer vision startup, and Misfit, previously owned by the watch manufacturer Fossil. The newly formed division will develop AI-powered tech specifically aimed at law enforcement.
The move suggests body-worn cameras, which are already being used by police departments in many major cities, could soon become capable of identifying different objects, events, and people encountered by officers on the street — both retroactively and in real time.
Searchable video will no doubt have major implications for civilian privacy. There are no federal laws preventing police from tracking people track people en masse. Any random person walking down the street can be identified and tracked in secret by a camera-equipped cop. According to a recent Georgetown University Law report, roughly half of all American adults have been entered into a law enforcement face recognition database, and Taser has expressed interest in adding face recognition capabilities to its body camera systems. Not to mention a DOJ study published last year found at least nine different body camera manufacturers either currently support face recognition in their products or have the ability to add it later.
A Dextro demonstration shows real-time classification of people and objects in video
The company claims its use of AI will be focused on “efficient categorization, semantic understanding, and faster redaction” of video footage as a method of “reducing paper work and enabling officers to focus on what matters.”
Taser has claimed its platform prevents tampering with video evidence by logging every time a piece of footage is accessed. But critics have warned such privately-owned systems are ripe for abuse because police and prosecutors still have exclusive control over the footage, as well as the system that processes it.
In the future, Taser CEO Rick Smith said the company wants to expand these capabilities into an AI “personal secretary” for police officers. This system would fully automate the collection of data during police encounters.
Privacy advocates are wary of letting a private for-profit company like Taser dictate how high-tech policing works, especially when no limitations are currently in place restricting when or even how often video archives and face recognition databases can be searched.
“We’re talking about a company making far-reaching decisions about emerging technologies in policing,” Clare Garvie, an associate at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology, told Vocativ. “It’s an open question right now what controls will be put in place at the public agency level.”