But is this even constitutionally legal?
A new report from Forbes details out how artificial intelligence is helping some police departments to identify potential car thieves and other criminals based on behavioral patterns. The technology analyzes the movements of vehicles throughout a state or other geography, thanks to license plates being read by scanners placed on police cars. It all sounds a little too much like the movie Minority Report, only instead of precognitive humans doing the predictions, it’s AI.
Forbes has shined a bright light on this practice in a recent report. In it, a landmark case of a man who was traveling through Westchester County in New York when the AI decided the movements of the vehicle between Massachusetts and New York State over a ten month period was consistent with drug traffickers’ known movements.
Police pulled the man over even though he hadn’t violated any traffic laws. Then they pulled the driver out and searched the vehicle, finding drugs, cash, and a firearm. While the suspect eventually pled guilty to a drug trafficking charge, some are still concerned about the future of artificial intelligence in policing.
Normally, police use license plate scanners to look for cars that are reported stolen or registered owners who have open warrants. This AI-driven approach goes further, linking all the times the license plates have been scanned, calculating movements, and then running probabilities that someone has committed a crime.
Does being pulled over and your car searched because an AI decided you might be running drugs or committing some other heinous crime actually violate your Fourth Amendment rights? Forbes cited an attorney who believes just the scanning of plates, then analyzing people’s movements constitutes an “unprecedented search.” The ACLU and other groups are locking in on this as a potential abuse of civil rights as well. In other words, don’t be surprised if a case involving AI analysis of scanned license plates ends up before the United States Supreme Court before too long.
One company promoting this technology, called Rekor, has sold it to at minimum 23 law enforcement agencies and local governments in the US, Forbes concluded after reviewing publicly available data. The real figure might be much higher and no doubt is growing steadily.
What’s truly frightening is this tracking of movements to profile potential criminals is apparently only the tip of the iceberg of what might come with the technology. The fear of many is this will create a surveillance state which will dwarf anything we’ve seen before as every citizen is treated as a suspect in an untold array of possible crimes. Just how long will it be until AI is “predicting” who will commit murders before they actually do anything? Where is the limit? While we’re not fans of the current crime trend, this doesn’t seem like a great way to get things back under control. Surrendering our freedoms to stay safe, as Benjamin Franklin famously noted, is a foolish move.
Images via Westchester County Police Department