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Police Use of Robotic Technology Raises Civil Liberty Concerns

Fearing the potential abuse of robotics technology and the secretive introduction of the technology into police arsenals, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (“ACLU-MA”) called attention to Spot during an interview last November on radio station WBUR. “We just really don’t know enough about how the state police are using this,” said Kade Crockford, director of ACLU-MA’s Technology for Liberty program. “And the technology that can be used in concert with a robotic system like this is almost limitless in terms of what kinds of surveillance and potentially even weaponization operations may be allowed.”

But according to MSP’s contract with Boston Dynamics, Spot cannot be used to physically harm or intimidate people. MSP spokesman David Procopio defended the use of robotic technology, saying, “Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments.”

ACLU-MA isn’t primarily worried about Spot but stated the concern is the absence of transparency regarding law enforcement’s rules surrounding the use of robots as well as the lack of legislation protecting civil liberties, civil rights, and racial justice in connection with artificial intelligence.

In Singapore, the four-legged Spot was deployed in a two-week trial in May 2020 to assist with the partial pandemic lockdown, from monitoring social distancing to heeding essentials-only travel, such as grocery shopping or solo exercising. Breaches of lockdown in that country can bring fines and even jail time. 


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