Millions of cars daily analyzed by artificial intelligence for 'suspicious' behavior
Dystopian surveillance is here and providing a growing market for tech entrepreneurs. Police agencies are daily using artificial intelligence to identify "suspicious" patterns of behavior in millions of random cars caught on surveillance cameras connecting with databases of ownership, and enabling searches and arrests. In an era with politicized law enforcement, what could go wrong?
Thomas Brewster of Forbes reports:
March of 2022, David Zayas was driving down the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale. His car, a gray Chevrolet, was entirely unremarkable, as was its speed. But to the Westchester County Police Department, the car was cause for concern and Zayas a possible criminal; its powerful new AI tool had identified the vehicle's behavior as suspicious.
Searching through a database of 1.6 billion license plate records collected over the last two years from locations across New York State, the AI determined that Zayas' car was on a journey typical of a drug trafficker. According to a Department of Justice prosecutor filing, it made nine trips from Massachusetts to different parts of New York between October 2020 and August 2021 following routes known to be used by narcotics pushers and for conspicuously short stays. So on March 10 last year, Westchester PD pulled him over and searched his car, finding 112 grams of crack cocaine, a semiautomatic pistol and $34,000 in cash inside, according to court documents. A year later, Zayas pleaded guilty to a drug trafficking charge.
Prior to the guilty plea, Zayas's lawyer Ben Gold contested the evidence and via FOIA requests discovered that:
the ALPR [Automatic License Plate reader] system was scanning over 16 million license plates a week, across 480 ALPR cameras. Of those systems, 434 were stationary, attached to poles and signs, while the remaining 46 were mobile, attached to police vehicles. The AI was not just looking at license plates either. It had also been taking notes on vehicles' make, model and color — useful when a plate number for a suspect vehicle isn't visible or is unknown.
To Gold, the system's analysis of every car caught by a camera amounted to an "unprecedented search." "This is the specter of modern surveillance that the Fourth Amendment must guard against," he wrote, in his motion to suppress the evidence. "This is the systematic development and deployment of a vast surveillance network that invades society's reasonable expectation of privacy.
"With no judicial oversight this type of system operates at the caprice of every officer with access to it."
The article describes the growing number of companies providing A.I.-powered systems of surveillance that can be hooked up to not just traffic and police cameras, but to private surveillance cameras that opt in to the system. Connect all of these cameras to public and private databases, and we have a recipe for police to repress political opposition that even Big Brother himself couldn't dare dream of. Imagine cops knowing that you're headed in the direction of a rally for, say, Donald Trump and that you rarely drive that way.
As Pixy Misa of AoSHQ puts it, "Welcome to the goldfish bowl."