The Undue Influence of Surveillance Technology Companies on Policing

September 12, 2017 7:00 pm

On Tuesday, September 12, the Tech/Law Colloquium welcomes Elizabeth Joh, a professor of law at the University of California-Davis. Professor Joh has written widely about policing, technology, and surveillance. Her scholarship has appeared in the Stanford Law Review, the California Law Review, the Northwestern University Law Review, the Harvard Law Review Forum, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online. She has also provided commentary for the Los Angeles Times, Slate, and the New York Times.

Talk: The Undue Influence of Surveillance Technology Companies on Policing

Abstract: Conventional wisdom assumes that the police are in control of their investigative tools. But with surveillance technologies, this is not always the case. Increasingly, police departments are consumers of surveillance technologies that are created, sold, and controlled by private companies. These surveillance technology companies exercise an undue influence over the police today in ways that aren’t widely acknowledged, but that have enormous consequences for civil liberties and police oversight. Three seemingly unrelated examples -- stingray cellphone surveillance, body cameras, and big data software -- demonstrate varieties of this undue influence. These companies act out of private self-interest, but their decisions have considerable public impact. The harms of this private influence include the distortion of Fourth Amendment law, the undermining of accountability by design, and the erosion of transparency norms. This Essay demonstrates the increasing degree to which surveillance technology vendors can guide, shape, and limit policing in ways that are not widely recognized. Any vision of increased police accountability today cannot be complete without consideration of the role surveillance technology companies play.

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