Take the expansion of surveillance cameras into your community to heart.

Ellen Liberman’s article in Rhode Island Monthly about police programs using the Flock Safety system is important and timely for a number of reasons:

The “Flock hit” is a reference to the Flock Safety system, a network of time-stamped license plate-reading cameras linked to a vehicle’s make, model, color and distinguishing marks. The image information is instantly checked against information stored in other crime databases, such as the National Crime Information Center, a digital index of “wanted” people and property associated with that plate. The department’s dispatchers and officers get a “hit” when a camera records the passing of a vehicle on a hotlist.

The system is running on a trial basis in Cranston, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket as “an exponential explosion of patrol power.”  Making it even more problematic is the way the adoption happened.  Cranston resident Michael Beauregard says, “It’s a revolutionary change of policy that went by with no debate or scrutiny until after the fact.”

Beauregard’s concern is related to one I expressed with reference to East Providence’s new school zone speeding cameras.  When we (as a citizenry) accept rules and empower police to enforce them, we do so under the conditions as we experience them right now, not under the assumption of perfect enforcement.  Catching car thieves and other criminals isn’t something most people would prefer to be loosely enforced, but without public debate at each step, we can’t be sure that the selling points the police proclaim after the fact are the only uses to which the devices are being put.

Another step in thinking is worth taking, here, too.  As we live increasingly online — with Facebook going so far as to promote a creepy Metaverse — these surveillance policies have a practical lesson to teach.  To the extent you’re living within a program, rather than out in the physical world, perfect enforcement becomes more of a possibility and the question of what will be enforced becomes more urgent.


Featured image by Milan Malkomes on Unsplash.

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