Technology, police and racial bias


From palantir to ring to body cameras and GPS databases, technology has transformed policing – taking into account the prejudices of its creators.

Why it matters: These Progress can combat racial discrimination, but it can also promote it.

Details: The death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police was captured on a teenage boy cell phone video. Images of a white officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck sparked global protests and a national reckoning.

Yes but: Law enforcement agencies also use technology that critics say heighten racial prejudice.

Face recognition: Law enforcement agencies have long used forms of facial recognition technology, but in recent years better technology has been adopted by departments in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities.

  • types of biometric security can confirm a person’s identity based on faces in photos and videos or in real time. A Study 2016 of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law found that one in two American adults is on a law enforcement facial recognition network.
  • But activists say technology can Identify people incorrectly with dark skin and violate personal rights. A coalition of nearly 70 civil rights and interest groups in June demanded the Congress to ban the technology in some places.

Monitoring apps: Home security products like Amazon’s ring video doorbells and Google’s Nest allow residents to take pictures and video footage on their doorstep, but also from nearby sidewalks and streets.

  • Ring’s connected crime reporting app, Neighbors, allows users to upload images that sometimes misidentify themselves Colored people walking dogs.
  • Users have also posted racist utterances to describe black and Latin American residents. While the Neighbors app prohibits harassment and bullying, it seems impossible to effectively stop these issues with the existing surveillance.
  • Ring has partnerships with around 1,800 U.S. law enforcement agencies that can Request camera material of ring doorbells with no warrant. The company declined to say how many users had received footage from the police.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union said such a system boils down to spying on local residents and describes growing partnerships between such apps and law enforcement agencies as worrying.

Real-time crime centers: A growing number of police departments are setting up surveillance centers to allow officers to take advantage of a growing range of GPS, surveillance and database technologies.

  • The centers work as central nodes and control rooms for automated license plate readers, shot detection, real-time social media monitoring, predictive police algorithms and a network of video cameras.
  • The Atlas of Surveillance Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno have identified more than 80 such centers in 29 states.
  • Critics say the centers allow police to unnecessarily monitor peaceful protests, bicycle races or other large gatherings of colored people.
  • “They can basically record all of our associations and where we go, who we see, where we slept over time because they record all of our location data,” Tessa D’Arcangelew, organizing program manager at ACLU in Northern California, said KTXL-TV in Sacramento, California.

Police surveillance: Some cell phone apps try to stop deadly police encounters with people of color instead of just documenting them – including notifying family members and lawyers of potential violations in real time.

  • the Watch cop video recorder App opens with Siri on iPhones, automatically starts filming and sends footage to the cloud. The app films in real time if the police officer confiscates or breaks the phone.
  • the Legal equalizer app records police encounters after the user has been stopped, automatically notifies his relatives and provides basic legal information on site.
  • the Mobile justice App, available in all 50 states, records and reports police incidents directly to the local chapters of the ACLU. The app also allows users to send videos to family and private lawyers via SMS.


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