Computer scientists are developing new technology that would allow law enforcement to tap into any of the 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States that aren’t password protected.
The technology, which is just a proof of concept, is being designed to equip first responders with the necessary information to promptly respond to crimes. “It’s a way to help people take advantage of information that’s out there,” says David Ebert, an electrical and computer engineer at Purdue University.
While some are optimistic about the implementation of the technology to prevent crime, others are concerned that it is likely to be abused. “I can certainly see the utility for first responders,” says Dave Maass, an investigative researcher with digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “But it does open up the potential for some unseemly surveillance.”
The system is being developed at Purdue University, where computer scientists are determining how the technology can be used without abuse. Currently, Purdue limits access to only registered users and requires them to “agree not to use the platform to determine the identity of any specific individuals contained in any video or video stream.”
Voices across the technology world have spoken up to express their skepticism towards the Purdue’s surveillance system. Gautam Hans, a member of the Center for Democracy & Technology expressed concern that it would be disastrous if the technology could fell into the wrong hands. “I think it becomes a very tempting target,” says Hans. “Thinking about security issues is going to be a major concern.”
Despite his concerns, Hans suggested the technological evolution is inevitable, and that efforts to protect privacy will be best focused on the management of future technologies rather than the prevention of their development. “At a certain level there’s only so much you can do to prevent the march of technology,” he says. “It’s not the best use of our time to rail against its existence. At a certain point, we need to figure out how to use it effectively, or at least with extensive oversight.”