San Francisco Police Are Using Driverless Cars As Mobile Surveillance Cameras

BeerFartMoron shares a report from Motherboard: For the last five years, driverless car companies have been testing their vehicles on public roads. These vehicles constantly roam neighborhoods while laden with a variety of sensors including video cameras capturing everything going on around them in order to operate safely and analyze instances where they don’t. While the companies themselves, such as Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise, tout the potential transportation benefits their services may one day offer, they don’t publicize another use case, one that is far less hypothetical: Mobile surveillance cameras for police departments.

“Autonomous vehicles are recording their surroundings continuously and have the potential to help with investigative leads,” says a San Francisco Police department training document obtained by Motherboard via a public records request. “Investigations has already done this several times.”

Privacy advocates say the revelation that police are actively using AV footage is cause for alarm. “This is very concerning,” Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) senior staff attorney Adam Schwartz told Motherboard. He said cars in general are troves of personal consumer data, but autonomous vehicles will have even more of that data from capturing the details of the world around them. “So when we see any police department identify AVs as a new source of evidence, that’s very concerning.”

As companies continue to make public roadways their testing grounds for these vehicles, everyone should understand them for what they are — rolling surveillance devices that expand existing widespread spying technologies,” said Chris Gilliard, Visiting Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center. “Law enforcement agencies already have access to automated license plate readers, geofence warrants, Ring Doorbell footage, as well as the ability to purchase location data. This practice will extend the reach of an already pervasive web of surveillance.”