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That Robotaxi Is Watching You

by Anthony W. Accurso

Police are tapping into a new source for their insatiable desire to collect video footage of innocent citizens — autonomous vehicles.

Cops don’t like being filmed. Despite citizens having a right to capture officers on camera during the performance of their official duties in public, some officers have started loudly playing copyrighted music in an attempt to prevent such footage from being livestreamed or uploaded to video sharing websites. Even police bodycam footage — the original purpose of which was to hold police accountable — is routinely the subject of intense litigation when citizens demand the release of footage after every shooting or fatal encounter with the police.

But cops really like watching us.

For years, municipalities and businesses have been putting up digital cameras, pointed at public spaces, to watch such areas 24/7. The Supreme Court has said police need a warrant to place such cameras where they can watch a suspect’s backyard, but when they are pointed at public spaces and not any particular individual, they are legitimate.

So, what do cops do in response? They put cameras everywhere. And places where they don’t or can’t put cameras, they let companies put cameras there, so police can just subpoena the footage at will.

This was bad enough when everybody started putting Amazon Ring doorbells on their porches and pointing them well beyond their front doors. But at least those could not follow you through the streets.

In places where autonomous vehicles are becoming more common, people are rightly concerned that video footage from such vehicles will be hoovered by police into “data lakes” at “fusion centers” and governed by policies that cops don’t follow when they feel like digitally stalking someone. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as these vehicles are often equipped with a host of sensors to detect heat and distance from objects, which can be used for 3D modeling and seeing in the dark.

This is the same technology behind the night vision camcorders, accidentally released by Sony in 1998, that could see through clothing.

And we’re just getting started. Tech enthusiasts have been heralding the coming of the Internet of Things, where every electric device in our environment will be studded with sensors and connected to the internet.

So as worrisome as it will be when cops are using robotaxis to spy on you, it will be worse when your home appliances are also co-opted for this purpose.

“Dad, why is the vacuum cleaner following me around the house?” 


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