After a decade of mistakes, police departments need to recognize that more sophisticated surveillance technology will only exacerbate bias and abuse in policing.
Video of police in riot gear clashing with unarmed protesters in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has filled social media feeds. Meanwhile, police surveillance of protesters has remained largely out of sight.
Police use of these national security-style surveillance techniques—justified as cost-effective techniques that avoid human bias and error—has grown hand in hand with the increased militarization of law enforcement. Extensive research, including my own, has shown that these expansive and powerful surveillance capabilities have exacerbated rather than reduced bias, overreach, and abuse in policing, and they pose a growing threat to civil liberties.
Police reform efforts are increasingly looking at law enforcement organizations’ use of surveillance technologies. In the wake of the current unrest, IBM, Amazon and Microsoft have put the brakes on police use of the companies’ facial recognition technology. And police reform bills submitted by the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives call for regulating police use of facial recognition systems.