The New York City Police Department is reportedly evaluating whether to give its officers Google Glass as a tool for investigations and patrols.
“We signed up, got a few pairs of the Google glasses, and we’re trying them out, seeing if they have any value in investigations, mostly for patrol purposes,” an NYPD official told VentureBeat. “We’re looking at them, you know, seeing how they work.”
Google, which is sensitive to accusations that it works hand-in-hand with governments or law-enforcement agencies to monitor civilians, suggested that the NYPD must have purchased the units on its own initiative, rather than partner with the company. “The Google Glass Explorer program includes people from all walks of life, including doctors, firefighters and parents. Anyone can sign up to become a Glass Explorer, provided he or she is a U.S. resident and over the age of 18,” read the statement the company issued to VentureBeat.
Some pundits and civil libertarians hate the idea of law enforcement wearing Google Glass or other electronics that can send a constant stream of video and audio to a government (or even third-party) server. Load Google Glass with facial-recognition software, for example, and the device (at least in theory) could capture voluminous amounts of information about peoples’ everyday movements—good for crime-fighting, perhaps, but exactly the sort of technological innovation that sends privacy advocates scrambling to file lawsuits.
Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, wrote in a blog posting last year that, as a society, we need to make choices “about the extent to which we want to allow the government to store up that data so that it has the power to hit ‘rewind’ on everybody’s lives.”
Google Glass surveillance could also violate the Wiretap Act (and, by extension, its underlying Fourth Amendment framework), which tightly controls how state and federal agencies can intercept audio signals; while federal law only requires that one party consent to taping, some states require the agreement of everybody involved in the conversation.
“If the officer is recording a communication he has in public with someone, there’s probably no wiretap problem since there’s at least the consent of one party and no expectation of privacy,” Hanni M. Fakhoury, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an email to Slashdot the last time this issue of law enforcement and Google Glass came up. “But if he’s recording peripheral communications between two separate individuals, than there’s potential wiretap liability depending on the circumstances.”
But at the same time, wearing Google Glass could also compel cops (and other law-enforcement personnel) to be on their best behavior at all times, particularly when it comes to use of force. The prospect of instantly available video detailing every aspect of an officer’s shift could prove a powerful incentive to behave in a courteous and professional manner. But that’s a very broad assumption; the reality—if cops really do start wearing Google Glass and other video-equipped electronics in large numbers—will likely end up determined by lots and lots of lawsuits and court-actions, many of them stemming from real-world incidents.