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

Woody Hartzog and Lisa Shay now break down the automated law enforcement process into individual constituents and analyze each one in detail.

Woody Hartzog: So, how does the law become involved in all of this? Greg just talked about how the technology is in place. The sensors are there to record our activities, but that’s not the only thing that can be automated. And when we’re talking about automated law enforcement, we’re talking about a complete loop, not just with sensors and recording activity, but then storing that activity, processing that activity and making a decision whether to punish someone or not based on that activity.

A perspective on automating law enforcement We actually got three different levels here, where we talk about: there is this subject that is surveilled, the law enforcement agency at various points which can automate decisions, and finally the judicial system to decide if we need some kind of punishment or not (see right-hand diagram). We’ll turn it over to Lisa to talk a little bit more about this diagram.

Lisa Shay: Briefly, I’m going to go over the areas of how this could be automated.

So, looking at the upper left corner of the diagram: if subject’s going about his or her daily life being surveilled by an automated system, which, a la Minority Report, might have a predictive module in it, that then says: “Oh, the subject is about to commit a crime,” and depending on the scenario, could potentially stop that crime, prevent that crime, a la Minority Report, or, in another scenario, could warn the suspect that: “Hey, what you’re about to do is illegal,” and then the suspect has to make a decision to commit the crime or not.

Then, if the crime is in fact committed, there will be some post-processing again by this surveillance system that then decides: “Oh, did the system detect that a crime was committed or not?” Yeah, somebody committed one, but does the system catch it? If the system doesn’t catch it, that’s a false negative. An error’s occurred, but in our personal view, a system that doesn’t catch a crime has got problems, but that’s not the most serious kind of error. What’s worse is if the person says: “Oh, you’re right, I’m not going to commit this crime,” then the post-processing algorithm decides that they did anyway – that’s a much more serious error. We call that a false positive, and that’s where some of the real danger lies.

One of the things we’re looking for, if some sort of system is implemented, is transparency and notification.

If the crime was detected, the law enforcement system then decides to prosecute or not. In a normal, everyday, human-based system the police officer on the beat has discretion, but in an automated system this becomes embedded in code, and code is a deterministic process. It will do the same thing every time, and there’s not going to be an opportunity for discretion.

The system then, if it decides to prosecute, hopefully will notify the person that they’ve been prosecuted. Again, one of the things we’re looking for, if some sort of system is implemented, is transparency and notification so that you’re not automatically punished without even knowing what you did wrong. Then, if the suspect is notified, that suspect has the choice to contest it or not, and then, in the judicial process, if they contest, then they can either be acquitted or not.

Punishment in an automated system better provide a person with time for all formalities So this whole system sets up a feedback loop, and in a normal life situation that we have now that’s a fairly slow loop and there’s time for reflection, there’s time for consideration of all effects. In an automated system we fear that that loop gets so fast that the person is punished before they even realize what’s been done to them.

Automating the punishment There are lots of opportunities for automating the punishment side of things (see left-hand image). The top row here shows the things that are currently in place; the bottom row shows technologies that could be in place in a couple of years; the middle row shows what could be done now with existing technology if there was a will. And the range of punishments run the gamut from just notice to execution, and we’ll go through a couple of examples.

Example of a web page with traffic information In Virginia and in many other places there are websites that show you where cameras and systems are in place (see right-hand image). There are also places that will send you notice or emails of warning systems that are implemented. And then, I think we’ve all been driving and seeing one of these radar systems (see left-hand image below). Highway speed display It’s an automatic feedback system; you can see how fast the police think you’re going, you can see what the speed limit is, and then you can make a decision. Now, a la Grand Theft Auto, I don’t recommend trying to make that delta as large as possible. Yeah, if you hit 99 – extra points.

Information on criminals made publicly available online If any of you saw Bruce Schneier’s talk yesterday at Black Hat, he talked about one of the mechanisms that helped a law-abiding society stay functional is that people are concerned about their reputations, and we all want to protect our good reputations. And what some law enforcement agencies are starting to do is put on websites pictures of people who have committed a variety of different crimes (see right-hand image). You can imagine how easy it is to just take a police blotter and write some very simple scripts that put all that information up on a website daily.

Robotic mechanisms that can arrest people are already appearing out there In a more detrimental way, there are automatic systems for providing citation, points, fines. I know lots of people who have gotten automatic tickets based on red light cameras or speed traps or things like that. There are systems that could arrest people. The bait cars are one example, or robotic systems with a variety of mechanisms on them (see left-hand image).

Source code meant to automate the prosecution decision We can automate the prosecution process as well. Here’s an example of some source code (see right-hand image) from an open source camera security project – again, it’s code that makes a decision as to whether or not a crime has been committed.

Even confinement is getting automated We have systems in place ready for confinement. There’s a whole variety of GPS tracking devices (see left-hand image), Greg showed a couple of examples; your cell phones are GPS tracking devices as well, and there’s a business model for outsourcing this type of enforcement of certain types of punishments. For those of you who are interested, the website says: “GPS is now available for only $3 per day”, so run out and get yours. The really arguable issue of automated execution Track your family members for only $3 a day.

And then finally, the ultimate punishment is death, and there are already examples of automated systems that have lethal weapons attached. The ones that we know about right now have humans in the loop, but that technology doesn’t necessarily require humans in the loop.

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

Read next: Life Inside a Skinner Box 4: Benefits and Downsides of Automation

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