The Harms of Police Surveillance Technology Monopolies

28 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2021

See all articles by Elizabeth E. Joh

Elizabeth E. Joh

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Thomas Wuil Joo

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: April 26, 2021


Police today increasingly rely on technologies of surveillance, data collection, inference, and prediction. These technologies include tools like body cameras, license plate readers, data analytics, and predictive crime software. All of them have in common a reliance on artificial intelligence and enormous amounts of digitized data. We can refer to these tools broadly as “police surveillance technologies.” These policing tools are primarily products developed and offered by private companies. The relationship between the private sector and their police customers raises concerns about a hidden and undue influence on an important democratic function. Both of these developments--regarding the role of artificial intelligence in policing and the private sector influence in it--have drawn growing regulatory and academic attention.

These developments, however, are driving another underappreciated change in policing. Police departments need platforms to manage data. Private sector companies providing technology products to police departments are in a race to develop a dominant policing platform. That’s a problem. Any product that offers to integrate all of the tools, data, and analysis that police rely on is a useful one. But the integration of these technologies poses an entirely different issue in policing that thus far has gone without serious scrutiny. If a single company dominates the market for a policing platform--a technological ecosystem for policing--it will effectively control the design, access, and availability of many different kinds of surveillance technologies. A company that achieves platform dominance in policing would not only reap economic benefits, but would also gain an enormous power over functions basic to issues of democratic policing.

Keywords: policing, artificial intelligence, monopoly, anticompetition, Fourth Amendment, law enforcement, technology, information

JEL Classification: kl14

Suggested Citation

Joh, Elizabeth E. and Joo, Thomas Wuil, The Harms of Police Surveillance Technology Monopolies (April 26, 2021). Denver Law Review Forum, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth E. Joh (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States

Thomas Wuil Joo

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
400 Mrak Hall Dr.
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States
(530) 754-6089 (Phone)
(530) 752-4704 (Fax)

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