SFPD Are Using Driverless Cars as Mobile Surveillance Cameras

I am shocked, shocked at this revelation about companies and organizations otherwise known for their scrupulous ethics.

"Autonomous vehicles are recording their surroundings continuously and have the potential to help with investigative leads," says a San Francisco Police department training document. "Investigations has already done this several times." [...]

"As companies continue to make public roadways their testing grounds for these vehicles, everyone should understand them for what they are -- rolling surveillance devices that expand existing widespread spying technologies," said Chris Gilliard, Visiting Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center. "Law enforcement agencies already have access to automated license plate readers, geofence warrants, Ring Doorbell footage, as well as the ability to purchase location data. This practice will extend the reach of an already pervasive web of surveillance." [...]

The use of AVs as an investigative tool echoes how Ring, a doorbell and home security company owned by Amazon, became a key partner with law enforcement around the country by turning individual consumer products into a network of cameras with comprehensive coverage of American neighborhoods easily accessible to police. Police departments around the country use automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) to track the movements of vehicles. The EFF has sued the SFPD for accessing business improvement district live cameras to spy on protestors.

Privacy advocates and researchers have long warned about the implications of increasingly sophisticated cars, but many of these warnings are essentially extensions of the privacy concerns of smartphones, where consumer technology tracks your movements and behavior, anonymizes it, and sells it to third parties in a manner that can be reverse-engineered to identify individuals. They rarely imagine a scenario where cars on the road are constantly recording the world around them for later use by police departments.

It is the combination of using fixed location camera networks with rolling networks of autonomous vehicle cameras and data that scares privacy advocates most. "The holistic outcome of these combined moving and fixed networks is a threat that is greater than the sum of its parts," Schwartz said. "Working together, [they can] more effectively turn our lives into open books."

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