Archives December 5, 2019

US Police Already Using ‘Spot’ Robot From Boston Dynamics In the Real World

Massachusetts State Police (MSP) has been quietly testing ways to use the four-legged Boston Dynamics robot known as Spot, according to new documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. And while Spot isn’t equipped with a weapon just yet, the documents provide a terrifying peek at our RoboCop future.

The Spot robot, which was officially made available for lease to businesses last month, has been in use by MSP since at least April 2019 and has engaged in at least two police “incidents,” though it’s not clear what those incidents may have been. It’s also not clear whether the robots were being operated by a human controller or how much autonomous action the robots are allowed. MSP did not respond to Gizmodo’s emails on Monday morning.

The newly obtained documents, first reported by Ally Jarmanning at WBUR in Boston, include emails and contracts that shed some light on how police departments of the future may use robots to engage suspects without putting human police in harm’s way. In one document written by Lt. Robert G. Schumaker robots are described as an “invaluable component of tactical operations” that are vital to support the state’s “Homeland Security Strategy.” […] The question that remains is whether the American public will simply accept robocops as our reality now. Unfortunately, it seems like we may not have any choice in the matter — especially when the only way that we can learn about this new robot-police partnership is through records requests by the ACLU. And even then, we’re still largely in the dark about how these things will be used.

Police Can Keep Ring Camera Video Forever, and Share With Whomever They’d Like

Police officers who download videos captured by homeowners’ Ring doorbell cameras can keep them forever and share them with whomever they’d like without providing evidence of a crime, the Amazon-owned firm told a lawmaker this month… Police in those communities can use Ring software to request up to 12 hours of video from anyone within half a square mile of a suspected crime scene, covering a 45-day time span, wrote Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy. Police are required to include a case number for the crime they are investigating, but not any other details or evidence related to the crime or their request.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement that Ring’s policies showed that the company had failed to enact basic safeguards to protect Americans’ privacy. “Connected doorbells are well on their way to becoming a mainstay of American households, and the lack of privacy and civil rights protections for innocent residents is nothing short of chilling,” he said. “If you’re an adult walking your dog or a child playing on the sidewalk, you shouldn’t have to worry that Ring’s products are amassing footage of you and that law enforcement may hold that footage indefinitely or share that footage with any third parties.”

While Ring tells users not to film public roads are sidewalks, Ring isn’t enforcing that, according to the article. Amazon argues that that’s ultimately the user’s responsibility.

And will their cameras start using facial recognition algorithms? Amazon answers that that feature is “contemplated but unreleased,” though they add that “We do frequently innovate based on customer demand,” and point out that other competing security cameras are already offering facial-recognition.