Who Regulates How Police Use New Tech?

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on May 29, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The way in which the police go about enforcing the law is an issue that's been debated for a long, long time. Whether it's individual police tactics, the militarization of the police force, or issues with race relations, there are a lot of opinions out there. 

But with advancements in technology like enhanced surveillance and artificial intelligence, new questions and concerns arise. For one, who regulates how the police use new technology?

Privacy Concerns

The usual tug-of-war that goes on around these issues is between safety on one end, and privacy on the other. Sure, we could potentially be very safe if the police could track everyone's movements with cameras, tracking devices, facial recognition, and the like. But you probably wouldn't feel like you had much privacy or anonymity. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

New Tech: Who Regulates It?

So, as new technology becomes available, who decides whether we tip the scales toward safety or toward privacy? It turns out, it depends where you live. In many localities, the police make the decision about what types of technology and surveillance to use. For example, San Diego's police department attempted to use public and private cameras to build a surveillance network to provide a live feed of crime scenes and identify "questionable individuals or conduct," among other goals. It was eventually deemed a failure.

Push for Community Involvement

Other locales make it a priority to involve the community in the decision-making process. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, everyone "deserves a say in what types of surveillance technology are deployed in their communities and the governing policies for their use." For example, Santa Clara, CA became the first county in the nation to implement transparency, accountability, and oversight measures for police surveillance decisions, according to the ACLU.

California state legislators are also considering a bill that would implement transparency regulations throughout the state. The measure would:

  • Apply to technology including cameras, GPS tracking, social media monitoring, and body-worn cameras;
  • Require law enforcement agencies to submit detailed use policies for intended technology;
  • Give a governing body approval power regarding policies and technology acquisitions, providing for public input;
  • Prohibit law enforcement from selling data collected through surveillance to private companies.

Although we might think of privacy in different terms given the prevalence of social media and artificial intelligence, you do still have rights when it comes to what the government can and can't do. If you think the police overstepped their bounds in your case, contact an attorney to protect your rights.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard