Law Enforcement & Wearable Tech

Law Enforcement & Wearable Tech

Wearable tech is one the most interesting areas of bodyhacking right now and one that will likely see the most development in the next few years. There’s one area in particular where wearable tech is already a highly-valued asset—one where those contributions are growing by choice and regulation every day: law enforcement. Interestingly, this is one place where wearable tech is rapidly becoming, to borrow a phrase, not merely a good idea but the law.

The easiest example that comes to mind is an area of controversy that is rapidly moving towards consensus. Following a pretty impressive debut, wearable cameras are making an appearance with police forces throughout the United States. In this country (and many places in the world), the ubiquitous police dashcam has been supplemented with wearable cameras, which are intended to provide records of police encounters with the public. This has upset a number of people, but the wearable camera is already a feature of trailrunners and minor YouTube celebrities alike. Police officers will need tools like this in the future to protect themselves, and the public needs them to have cameras for the same reasons.

 

But the camera is just the beginning. In the 2014 game WATCH_DOGS, an open-world cyberpunk vigilante game, a number of science fiction gizmos and apps of varying levels of believability were presented as vigilante tools. A lot of these were hilarious. But things like a facial recognition system integrated into their cameras that’s intended to find warrants on passersby seem entirely likely. Similar tools may be used as tools of surveillance on social media, running autonomously to find persons of interest in Facebook photos. Given that individuals are being caught already through bad decisions on social media ranging from the merely inadvisable act of complaining about your mugshot to actively taunting the police on Facebook, this seems like a logical next step: a camera that recognizes criminals even when you don’t. Using augmented reality to do it is a fancy next step that takes us just a little bit closer to Robocop, for good or for ill.

 

On a related note, although networked systems for military operations have seen their fair share of criticism, police operating in urban and suburban environments with ready access to power and data networks might have more luck with things like Land Warrior, giving each individual officer access to an augmented reality view of the situation as it evolves. A tactical situation plot with the flexibility of Google Maps would be, at the very least, cool.

 

However, cameras are just the beginning. Stretching the definition of wearable a little to include agile robot combat suits, the state of the art in armor is continuing to advance. High tech riot gear seems a logical next step. The long-time science fiction standard of shear thickening liquid—that is, material that hardens when struck—is under development at BAE Systems. This equipment will change the face of police work and the new face might be kind of Iron Man-esque. We can only hope.

 

All of these, of course, have some practical drawbacks. Autonomous facial surveillance faces some legal hurdles, possibly including the Supreme Court, which has ruled against using imaging tech without a warrant in the past. Facebook has already faced legal action for their use of facial recognition. Systems like Land Warrior and similar augmented reality tactical gear have some very real concerns about whether or not the extra information is worth the amount of attention it requires. Anyone with the slightest appreciation of how humans like to interact can also spot the problem with a police officer trying to make connections with their community while wearing a terrifying robot body suit.

 

But the technology is coming. It’s important to embrace the good while striking a balance via regulation to address privacy and ethical concerns. Law enforcement is part of human civilization in every form that we know it. We have to take it on ourselves to make sure that what we make, build, and hack is used to improve the general welfare and safety without leading toward a privacy-free future.

Laird Allen

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