Robot Smog’s Speed Bumps

Somini Sengupta writes about domestic surveillance on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times in Privacy Fears as Surveillance Grows in Cities. The article is largely about the installation of surveillance video systems, license plate trackers and others fixed and mobile data gathering camera systems financed by federal grants to cities and states.   I find the most fascinating parts to be around the edges of this main line, in answer to the question of just how the data will be treated, stored and used.  How long will the data be kept? Here is the answer for Oakland: “In the absence of an incident, how the data would be used and how long it would be kept remain largely unclear.”  Of course the problem is that automated data collection is only as well-intentioned as the people- and people can be, well, human. As an Oakland nonprofit official says, “What happens..when someone doesn’t like me and has access to all that information?” Won’t happen, you say? People are vetted carefully? There is an eye-opening section in the article about SAIC’s project to modernized New York City’s payroll system using biometrics. Sengupta reports that last year SAIC paid $500 million in settlement to avoid federal prosecution for kickbacks as part of its NYC biometric system. That’s the biggest government contract fraud settlement in history. With technology comes the promise of breaking all sorts of new records.


In other news, Sengupta notes several cities where public protest has caused robotic, flying drones to be literally returned to manufacturers with orders canceled. This is one interesting dynamic of the robot smog movement– we are seeing cities and states go different ways depending on just how vociferous citizens may be about the question of robot drones in the civilian air above their heads.


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