In Florida, deputies gave the mother of one teenager they were surveilling a $2,500 fine because she had five chickens in her backyard. They arrested another target’s father after peering through a window in his house and noticing a 17-year-old friend of his son’s smoking a cigarette.
Law enforcement agencies have long been searching for ways to more effectively get criminals off the streets. Ohio is using new mobile technologies to address manpower shortages and more effectively address crime in Lima by employing a device that tracks pedestrians using cameras, sound detection, facial recognition software, license plate recognition, and more. These technologies are spreading to states like Nevada and , and already have had severe consequences for individual freedom in states like Florida.
Advocates of this technological innovation say that it prevents crime, reduces police bias, and strengthens law enforcement’s ability to act quickly.
This misses the mark. To start, research on data-driven policing has shown that these practices may be racially biased. In New York City, gang databases have expanded over 70% since the implementation of these technologies, unjustly presuming children of color to be likely to commit future crimes.
Aside from racial issues, data-driven policing poses a threat to privacy rights. The overbearing insertion of technological policing threatens to stifle political expression, associational freedoms, anonymity, and private behavior.
Some are willing to sacrifice individual privacy to potentially prevent heinous crimes from being committed. Advocates justify these policies not only through the lens of promoting safety, but also by noting that the government spies on its citizens regularly. Making the practice more efficient will require even more taxpayer funding and resources to make Yet advocates will also claim that in the long run, it will address labor shortages within police forces and make policing more efficient.
Subscribing to the “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” mentality is extremely dangerous and can lead to more invasive practices in the name of public security. Moreover, that notion does not justify the infringement of privacy. Individual agency free from oversight is a core tenet of freedom. If everyone has an innate right to and can benefit from privacy, then stripping that right to stop even one alleged criminal is unjust, without probable cause or adherence to constitutional protections.
Some law enforcement agencies have agreed to not involve their agency with these technologies. Yet cities across Texas and America are implementing these technologies. The question becomes: which policies can effectively reduce the injustices committed by these technologies?
Policymakers must decide if these technologies are appropriate in the first place. Second, if they decide to adopt or allow them in their jurisdiction, they must ensure they are used in a way that safeguards individual autonomy and dignity, including protecting privacy rights and reducing bias. This approach will protect individual freedom and more directly focus law enforcement’s efforts on keeping the population safe.