Life Inside a Skinner Box 2: Existing Technology and Successful Prototypes

In this part Greg Conti provides unambiguous examples of the already acting technology and initiatives towards automated law enforcement.

Augmented reality is just around the corner Greg Conti: As we look to the future, has anyone seen Google’s Project Glass video? Even better, have you seen the parodies where they’re wearing the glasses and get text messages while crossing the street and get run over in the crosswalk? You should definitely go to YouTube and look up the parodies that are better than the original. But the bottom line is: if this actually comes to pass, there will be millions of people wearing always-on sensors looking around, every facet of your life on the street being collected. And it’s a matter of then getting access to that data by Corporate America or law enforcement.

Analog-to-digital is the trend We also see a trend of analog systems being converted to digital systems. Analog systems and analog traditional law enforcement is moderated by the human-in-the-loop intensive nature. But as things become increasingly efficient, then you can have automated law enforcement with unprecedented rigor. And bonus points: what is this license plate from? (See left-hand image) Back to the Future 2, yes. That’s why I love DEFCON, because you know someone will come up with it.

Systems are capable of tracking an identifying every car We’re seeing increased capability to analyze these data flows. Here’s a system that claims to be capable of tracking 32 vehicles across 4 lanes (see right-hand image). What we see emerging is, on all major highways, the ability to track every car in real time, identify the car, identify its speed and other activity.

Wide Area Motion Imagery in action We also see other sensor technologies being developed, such as the Wide Area Motion Imagery system, which can track individual vehicles and people over long term, over the course of hours, long-term monitoring of paths that individual objects, people and cars, are taking (image to the left).

Location tracking And then, of course, the cost of technology is dropping. Location tracking, where you can track your spouse or children, is dropping on a daily basis, so the technology is getting cheaper and cheaper, where it’s almost disposable.

Predictive policing - science fiction? Predictive policing – the ability to take the data as it exists that you have now and then try and project that onto the future when and where crimes will occur – is actually reality. We’ve seen this before. Where have we seen it? (See left-hand image) We’re not saying there’s precogs involved, but it’s definitely out there.

All kinds of interested parties And of course, there’s lots of interested parties, because a lot of this comes down to who is incentivized to employ these systems, who is incentivized to constrain these systems. And there’s lots of interest across the law enforcement spectrum and from industry, because there’s benefits to this, and there’s certainly dangers, and there’s certainly financial advantage.

Imposed regulations For those of you who live in New York City – and we live in the north of New York – apparently, in the near future we’ll be no longer able to purchase 32-ounce sodas, and that just gives a trend toward the well-intentioned officials that might like the idea of broadly enforcing law across the populace.

Demonstration of strict enforcement Historically, if you look back, there are certainly law enforcement agencies that have strict enforcement models; some would call them speed traps, such as the Automobile Association of America has erected billboards outside some of these towns to warn motorists (see right-hand image). So there is clearly the opportunity for abuse by automating some of these.

Quotas do exist, although denied by the officials And as to quotas, most law enforcement officials will say: “Quotas don’t exist. We never tell our officers to enforce a quota system and capture to up the numbers for a given month.” Well, we argue that they do, and I’m sure they’re not supported officially. But here is an example that the New York City Police Benevolent Association Bait cars has actually a report form to report when the officer claims that they’ve been asked to enforce a quota (see left-hand image). These are all trends pushing this forward.

Who has seen bait cars? (See right-hand image) They leave a car on the side of the street and someone decides to get in and the keys happen to be in the car and they drive off and they get locked in the car a few blocks away and arrested. Other types of bait? The idea is that these systems can be interacted and used in many innovative ways. And as we look to the future, who knows what type of bait could be used – pleasure model robots (left-hand image), or who knows what?

Illegal enforcement And then, illegal enforcement; we don’t want that to happen. The power that these systems provide allows for illegal enforcement potentially.

Regimes might abuse automated law enforcement I want a picture like that on top of my car, just for the record (see left-hand image). But clearly, certain regimes will abuse these systems if they have the power to do so. And this is all in the context of citizens who want a free lunch, and this is from SANSFIRE (right-hand image), Personal data in return for a free lunch where a bunch of security professionals were literally offered a free lunch in return for their personal information.

Similarly, social media is part of this, disclosing so much information in largely a public way and it has not gone unnoticed by law enforcement entities, Police officers who got tricked and there’s an example of college students who knew their local college police were monitoring Facebook for underage drinking, and decided to stage a party that they bragged about. It turned out it was just cake and soda, but when local law enforcement arrived, they were not pleased (see left-hand pic). But still, the idea here is that social media provides a data flow.

Successful prototypes that exist nowadays And this isn’t all pie in the sky, this is going to happen. We already see successful prototypes and business plans now, and if any of you, for example, have driven the I-95 between the Washington, DC area north toward New York City, there’s sections of the highway that have cameras at regular intervals. So, we’re not making this up. And then the law itself lags technology, and it’s progressing forward in such a rate that the law just isn’t there yet and will probably never be there.

What’s it gonna be? So where is all this heading? (See left-hand checklist) Ok, we got enabling technologies – check, sensors everywhere – check, promiscuous data sharing by citizens – check, security and financial incentives, and well intentioned law enforcement, and complacent citizenry – check and check, and then the law lagging technology and successful prototypes. All the precursors are in place, and we have to now look at where this is all going and make sure that we deflect it onto a trajectory that makes sense, because otherwise, frankly, I don’t think this is going to end all that well.

Read previous: Life Inside a Skinner Box: Automated Law Enforcement

Read next: Life Inside a Skinner Box 3: Breakdown of Automated Law Enforcement

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