Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Future of Policing Is Here, and It's Terrifying; Backscatter vans, crowd dispersal microwaves, lasers that make you vomit—welcome to the future of law enforcement, and all the icky questions the technology raises.

STORY: "The Future of Policing Is Here, and It's Terrifying," by reporter Peter Moskowitz, published by GQ Magazine on  November, 9, 2015.

SUB-HEADING:  "Backscatter vans, crowd dispersal microwaves, lasers that make you vomit—welcome to the future of law enforcement, and all the icky questions the technology raises.|
It was a major story, mostly because not much is known about “Z Backscatter” vans other than that they cost somewhere between $729,000 and $825,000. Yet, there’s no way to know for sure what they're capable of because the NYPD refuses to talk about them, even though the ACLU won a lawsuit that required the department to reveal records about the vans (including their potential health impacts on people who might be exposed to X-rays without knowing it). “The devices we have, the vehicles if you will, are all used lawfully and if the ACLU and others don’t think that’s the case, we’ll see them in court—where they’ll lose!” Commissioner Bill Bratton told the New York Post. The X-ray vans bring up all kinds of concerns about privacy, health, and general ickiness—no one wants to walk around New York wondering whether some bored cop in a van is checking out your skivvies—but by today’s police tech standards, the vans are actually relatively low-tech and benign. Departments large and small are using a host of new gadgets—from laser light weapons that can induce vomiting to surveillance systems that can predict crimes before they happen. And what’s scariest of all is the majority of these technologies are being funneled down from the U.S. Military, down into neighborhoods that are most definitely not war zones. “After 15 years of war, there’s a demand for all these companies to find new markets for all these technologies,” said Joel Pruce a professor of human rights at the University of Dayton who studies police technology. “So it trickles down from the military to police.” The revelations about the backscatter vans were just one more sign that the future of policing is here, and it's terrifying.
Here's a glimpse of what's out there. Group 1: Crowd Control There’s a video from the U.S. Military that shows soldiers acting like mock protesters in a grassy field. Then, a vehicle with what looks like a satellite on top shows up, and the protesters scatter. If it weren’t for the narrator on the video, you wouldn't be able to tell why: they’re being microwaved. The pain ray cannon (“Active Denial System” in police-talk) is essentially a microwave for humans. It uses microwave beams to stimulate a body’s water and fat molecules and heat up people until they run away. The system isn’t currently in use, but it’s being tested and could theoretically wind up at local police departments soon..........Group 2: Surveillance; The real boom market these days is in surveillance technology. It’s impossible to know just how much is being used by police departments, and at what cost—there’s no central clearinghouse for information about local police departments—but it’s likely if you’re walking outside in a city these days, you’re being recorded. The market for video surveillance alone grew from $11.5 billion in 2008 to $37.5 billion in 2015. One estimate says there are 30 million surveillance cameras across the country, and those are being used in new and invasive ways. Facial recognition software (another wartime import) is being used in dozens of police departments. In 2014, the Boston Police Department was caught testing out new facial recognition software made by IBM on an unsuspecting crowd of music festival attendees. According to the ACLU, departments are also experimenting with ways to gain access to and link together networks of private security cameras so they can expand their surveillance without installing new hardware. And body cameras, which police reform advocates thought might be a great way to hold cops accountable after a spate of killings of unarmed black men and women this year, could instead be used as surveillance devices.But thousands of surveillance cameras monitoring street corners is a pretty inefficient way to monitor an entire city or county, so now police are figuring out ways to monitor large groups of people from the sky. In several cities departments have deployed planes with high-resolution cameras that, paired with software, can tag and trace people as they move over many miles.“What if at some point they decide not to follow a burglary, but to follow activists back to their house?” Pruce said. “There are often no checks and balances.” Group 3: The Crystal Ball
If you were worried you’d make it through this article without a reference to The Minority Report, too bad, here it comes: Predictive policing is all the rage these days. Cops are using software programs that use algorithms to analyze surveillance, GPS coordinates, and crime data to pinpoint specific areas where, and specific people who, might at some point commit a crime. Here’s how it works: computers compile a bunch of information—historical crime data, known associations between people who’ve committed crimes in the past (and even their associations social media networks) and the location info about where crimes have been committed—analyze that data using, and spit out a list of names of people who might be at risk of committing a crime. Say you've dealt drugs at one point in your life, you live in a high-crime area, and you tweeted something about smoking weed recently—a piece of predictive policing software might tell cops to pay a visit to your house. It’s basically Minority Report minus those women in the pool."It’d be nice if law enforcement worked hand in hand with civil rights groups to figure this stuff out. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen."  Twitter:  The Chicago PD now has a program where police do preventative visits to dozens of young men whom the department’s algorithm has determined are at risk of committing a crime. In one survey, 70 percent of police departments said they were using some kind of predictive policing. “Policing in the future is going to be about managing information on a large scale” said Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at UC Davis who studies police technology. “They want to be like Amazon or Google and collect as much data as possible.” The problem from a civil rights perspective is that data isn’t neutral—many crimes never go recorded, and the ones that are recorded are often a product of controversial, potentially racist policing, like stop-and-frisks in black neighborhoods. The algorithms have the potential to intensify the biases that already exist in police departments.

The entire story can be found at: