Among many other things, 2020 was a year of civil unrest throughout much of the United States, including here in Michigan. Massive protests, along with notable crime trends in the Detroit area, highlighted the tense relationship between law enforcement and portions of the public.
Obviously, public safety is highly important, and we need police to serve that essential function. At the same time, however, we cannot allow police to justify any and all actions in the name of public safety. In other words, safety cannot come at the expense of civil rights. Yet according to a recent article in the Detroit Free Press, new technology being utilized by police in Detroit could be threatening that balance.
New technology, enhanced surveillance and enforcement
The article notes that the following technologies are set to be rolled out or expanded in 2021:
ShotSpotter: This tech works by fixing sensors onto high structures like telephone poles. If the sensors detect what sounds like a gunshot, they can narrow down the location and alert police in about one minute. In addition to putting a time and date stamp on alerts, the tech can also be used to capture audio clips, and has been misused in other cities to record private conversations.
Facial recognition systems: This tool can be effective at identifying and capturing suspects seen in public places, but it is racially biased. Studies show that Americans who are Black or Asian are misidentified between 10 and 100 times more often whites. This has already caused one high-profile controversy in Detroit related to false accusations against two Black men.
Additional traffic cameras: Currently, Detroit utilizes about 120 traffic cameras to enforce traffic laws. There are plans in the works to add an additional 215 cameras, which would greatly expand surveillance of average drivers.
Big data can be dangerous
Some would argue anyone who obeys the law has nothing to fear from increased surveillance – but that isn’t always true (as evident in the facial recognition problems noted above). Moreover, none of us truly knows how data collected about us is being used by law enforcement and how it might be used in the future. If we don’t take active efforts to resist and put limits on law enforcement powers now, they will only get stronger over time.
If you are facing criminal charges, it is possible that the evidence against you was gathered in violation of your civil rights. And if that’s the case, you may be able to have that evidence suppressed by a judge. Please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn more.