Updated Aug 18, 2018

The police technology revolution no one is hearing about

Port Authority police officers test new scanning technology to detect explosives in New York City. Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Los Angeles will be implementing body scanning technology to its mass transit systems, the New York Times reported this week, becoming the first city to do so.

Why it matters: Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told Axios "the technology revolution that we're seeing in other areas is definitely affecting law enforcement, and all too often these technologies are being deployed without telling — let alone asking — the affected communities."

Facial recognition

Amazon is selling facial recognition technology, called Rekognition, to police departments claiming it helps "identify persons of interest against a collection of millions of faces in real-time," per Wired.

  • Police in Orlando have been using it to run "real-time facial recognition on a network of cameras throughout the city," The Verge reports.

The other side: Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology reported in 2016 that this technology affects more than 117 million American adults, yet "[n]o state has passed a law comprehensively regulating police face recognition." The technology is "out of control" in many cases around the country and will disproportionately affect black citizens.

Body scanners

Chief security and law enforcement officer for the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Alex Wiggins, told the NYT: "We're looking specifically for weapons that have the ability to cause a mass casualty event."

  • Spokesman for the L.A. Metro, Dave Sotero, told the Times that most people "won't even know they're being scanned."

The other side: Stanley told Axios the police "are basically doing a search of you, and you can't do a search of somebody without reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment."

Body cameras

Police departments across the country now have officers wearing body cameras, meant to both hold officers accountable and protect them from unfair or false accusations.

  • Police Chief Peter Newsham of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington told the New York Times last year that the cameras have helped the communities trust officers more, assisted in training, resulted in more accurate investigations and more.

The other side: The ACLU is concerned about cameras' "potential to invade privacy, their risk of being reduced to just another tool for government mass surveillance...and their risk of becoming a propaganda tool."


Technology development company Axon and drone-maker DJI announced a partnership in June this year to sell drones to law enforcement agencies around the world.

  • Drones are being used all over the country — the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department is testing them to assist in water rescues, and police in North Carolina used a drone to locate an elderly woman.
  • L.A. County Sheriff Department Special Operations Division Commander Jack Ewell told the Atlantic in June that the technology "is just a lifesaver in law-enforcement work."

The other side: The public experienced something similar in 2016, when a small aircraft with wide-angle cameras flew above Baltimore, taking footage of 30 square miles and archiving it while the public had no idea, Bloomberg reported.

"This is where the rubber hits the road. The technology has finally arrived, and Big Brother, which everyone has always talked about, is finally here."
— Jay Stanley to Bloomberg, about the Baltimore aerial surveillance

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