Note — Jun 28, 2020

Defund the Police, but Don’t Replace It With Surveillance Tech

Tim Maughan is pretty much perfectly positioned at the intersection of tech, dislike of authority, awareness of inequalities, and infrastucture to be writing this piece. Here he scratches below the surface of Camden New Jersey’s oft-cited de-funding and reorganization of their police force, to show that they also ended up adding quite a bit of surveillance tech and outsourcing part of the watching to “civilians.” He also expands to IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon’s statements about not selling face recognition to police; will they sell to third-party civilian contractors?

They don’t mention surveillance systems: 121 cameras that monitor the entire city; 35 ShotSpotter microphones to detect gunshots; automated scanners that read license plates; and SkyPatrol, a mobile observation post that can scan six square blocks with thermal-imaging equipment. […]

Think of [predictive policing technologies] as rookie cops, waiting to be taught how to spot crime, and to decide where to patrol. By providing them with historical police data, you’ve just handed the job of teaching them over to the same old racist cops you’re meant to be replacing. Training these kinds of A.I. systems based on the movements and arrests of existing police officers is, quite literally, training them to follow their same bad habits and discriminatory tactics. […]

How do we define policing in 2020? Is it merely officers in uniform on our streets? Or do we include the surrounding infrastructures and suppliers — the civilian analysts, the predictive algorithms, the networked cameras we stick on our front doors?