NYPD tests Google Glass as they mull becoming Robocops

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Law & order, Privacy

Image courtesy of Flickr user Guiseppe CostantinoThe New York City Police Department is beta-testing the ultimate creepy stalker toy, according to news reports.

One "ranking New York City law enforcement official" told Venture Beat that the NYPD is interested in seeing what use Glass might be in investigations, particularly when worn by police on patrol:

We signed up, got a few pairs of the Google glasses, and we’re trying them out, seeing if they have any value in investigations, mostly for patrol purposes.

Just by looking at suspects, police could instantly check out their arrest records, mugshots and other key information, a source told the New York Post:

It would be like the Terminator. You walk past somebody and you get his pedigree info if he’s wanted for a warrant right on your eye screen.

You can identify the bad guys immediately within seconds.

Police picking up Google Glass is absolutely non-surprising. US police forces are mad for surveillance gizmos.

As it is, police in San Jose, California, recently put forth a proposal that would let citizens voluntarily sign up to make it easy for police to use their security camera footage.

Other big cities, such as Philadelphia and Chicago, along with small towns such as Los Gatos and Monte Sereno in California, have recently launched similar initiatives to set up databases of citizens who are willing to submit surveillance video.

In fact, the NYPD's interest in Glass is in keeping with the trend for US cities to increasingly gobble up data on residents using surveillance technology such as gunshot-detection sensors, license plate readers, data-mining of social media posts for criminal activity, tracking of toll payments when drivers use electronic passes, and even at least one police purchase of a drone in Texas.

A Google spokesman told Venture Beat that the NYPD probably got the glasses through the company's Glass Explorer program, given that Google isn't working with law enforcement agencies on the project.

Interested people can apply through Glass Explorer to get the glasses early in the design stage and, if Google gives them the go-ahead, can buy them for $1,500.

The spokesman said that the program is open to applications from any US adult:

The Google Glass Explorer program includes people from all walks of life, including doctors, firefighters and parents. Anyone can sign up to become a Glass Explorer, provided he or she is a US resident and over the age of 18.

The privacy aspects of police conducting surveillance with Glass are, of course, of deep concern.

Writing for Slashdot, Nick Kolakowski noted that such surveillance could violate the Wiretap Act and the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search.

Kolakowski referred to a letter sent to Slashdot by Hanni M. Fakhoury, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the last time the issue of law enforcement and Google Glass came up:

If the officer is recording a communication he has in public with someone, there’s probably no wiretap problem since there’s at least the consent of one party and no expectation of privacy... But if he’s recording peripheral communications between two separate individuals, then there’s potential wiretap liability, depending on the circumstances.

As American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley said in a post last year, the NSA's "collect it all" approach to surveillance data is permeating US police forces.

That means, for example, license plate scanning being done on everybody who drives by, Stanley said - not just on cars wanted by the police.

Here's the choice that such technologies now present to us, Stanley suggests:

We now have technologies that enable the creation of very detailed data on our activities. Those technologies are only going to get more powerful and more pervasive. We need to make a choice as a society about the extent to which we want to allow the government to store up that data so that it has the power to hit "rewind" on everybody’s lives.

That's "just too much power" as far as the ACLU and other civil liberties groups are concerned.

What do you think? Should we trust police to respect our privacy in spite of ever-more-pervasive means to record everything?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image of Google Glass courtesy of Flickr / Guiseppe Costantino.

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11 Responses to NYPD tests Google Glass as they mull becoming Robocops

  1. Logy · 256 days ago

    What if it was the other way around? What if we the people got Google Glass, with our tax dollars, and then used it to record the Police's activities and actions? What if we built a database that could facially recognize Police and find out what their general tendencies are? I have a feeling they would like it just about as much as I do... Not at all.

    • sobic · 256 days ago

      not much of a what-if... except for using tax dollars... in the USA, it has been long established, that "the eye cannot trespass". regrettably, some jurisdictions tried to pass local laws prohibiting the recording of actions of law enforcement officers, though possibly with the intent to protect those arrested as innocent until proven guilty.
      in the 18th century Commons (village green) "everybody new your name", and we had (then) effective Constitutional protections.
      fewer calories should be spent ranting over the increased efficiency from technology, and more calories spent on ways to prevent individual abuses and guarantee those same individual protections.

  2. Blake · 256 days ago

    The Police would actually have a reason and wearing these things would actually benefit them and us. However why do average people need these things in public. I think a few people need to pull the wearers of these things in court and once it costs them and Google some money we can get back to a civilized way of life.

    • Anonymous · 256 days ago

      It's only useful to police the police with them if you can get your hands on the data... How long before we start to hear "the data was corrupt" sorry the video of the arrest is not available. Etc. Happens all the time with dash cam.....

  3. MonicaC · 256 days ago

    Unfortunately, in big-city America, the police consider the population divided into a dichotomy--"cops" and "bad guys". Unless you have money, it's "them" vs. "us".

  4. Freida Gray · 256 days ago

    Does Google have a process in place to verify that early users are actually who they say they are & not some crook or sneaky kid who wants to "play spy for real"?

  5. Anonymous · 256 days ago

    Wouldn't the easiest way to defeat the Google glass on a police officer be to just jam the call home... No way the device can store all that info.... Jam the call home and your good to go :) event better syphon that Info.....

  6. RF · 256 days ago

    Of course, no harm can come of this.... Right?

  7. BM · 256 days ago

    There have been more calls for officers to wear cameras strapped to their chests so there is evidence (either for the prosecution or the defence) of what actually happens during police encounters with the public. So I could see this as a useful tool. However, I am concerned that limitations in facial recognition software might cause police to harass or even injure innocent people because of mistaken identity.

  8. MP · 256 days ago

    You can get license plate frames that emit infrared light which blocks the license plate reader from getting your plate. Now there will be a market for hats that do the same for your face! Brilliant!

  9. Bob · 256 days ago

    Wear a surgical mask. Lots of people do anyway when in bad pollution, like in Beijing.
    For your car, mud on the plate. Lots of trucks have mud everywhere.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.