This past week I was reading a new book by Jon Fasman, the digital editor of the Economist. His book, We See It All, is a review of surveillance and local police departments.
While reading I reminded myself that the issues discussed in the book about citizen privacy and new technology being leveraged by law enforcement are not something that we have had to grapple with in Scottsdale. I have always found our police department to be transparent and open to citizen inquiry.
That being said, technological advances are providing law enforcement with new tools to aid in preventing, solving, and prosecuting crime. These new tools are effective aids in policing, but what costs to privacy comes along with new technology? Since we have new leadership at the police department and a slate of newly elected city leaders perhaps it is time to review what we want as a community?
Citizen Virtual Patrols are camera networks that are capable of viewing large swaths of the city in real-time.
While most people would be comforted knowing if something happened there is a strong likelihood it would be captured and be useful in solving a crime. But what happens to that data once it is collected? Is video footage being archived of someone’s whereabouts?
Is facial recognition being used and if so how is that data being used?
Shot Spotters are used to detect acoustic intrusive sounds, such as gunfire.
Statistics say that less than 9% of gunshots result in calls to police. A tool that can alert police to gunshots being fired can be a tremendous advantage to police who need to respond quickly.
The question for those concerned with privacy is how sensitive are these Shot Spotters? Can they detect individual conversations? Companies that provide Shot Spotter tools say no they are unable to detect personal conversations. But the question remains that we have to rely on transparency from law enforcement and the equipment manufacturers to answer this question.
I reviewed the Scottsdale police website to see if any of these tools are being used in Scottsdale. I was unable to determine if any surveillance type of equipment is being deployed at this time.
I have a tremendous amount of confidence that Scottsdale police operate with citizen privacy in mind. I fully support new technology and new tools to make the difficult job of law enforcement more effective and safer. However, as new technology is introduced, we must continue to evaluate as a community where that line between citizen rights and police capabilities intersect.
Editor’s Note: Kevin Maxwell is a resident of Scottsdale.