The Undue Influence of Surveillance Technology Companies on Policing
30 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2017 Last revised: 29 Mar 2019
Date Written: February 27, 2017
Conventional wisdom assumes that the police are in control of their investigative tools. But with surveillance technologies, this is not always the case. Increasingly, police departments are consumers of surveillance technologies that are created, sold, and controlled by private companies. These surveillance technology companies exercise an undue influence over the police today in ways that aren’t widely acknowledged, but that have enormous consequences for civil liberties and police oversight. Three seemingly unrelated examples -- stingray cellphone surveillance, body cameras, and big data software -- demonstrate varieties of this undue influence. These companies act out of private self-interest, but their decisions have considerable public impact. The harms of this private influence include the distortion of Fourth Amendment law, the undermining of accountability by design, and the erosion of transparency norms. This Essay demonstrates the increasing degree to which surveillance technology vendors can guide, shape, and limit policing in ways that are not widely recognized. Any vision of increased police accountability today cannot be complete without consideration of the role surveillance technology companies play.
Keywords: police, policing, technology, information privacy, big data, surveillance, privacy, Fourth Amendment, body cameras, stingray
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