“We are always concerned about secondary uses of technology that is sold to us for some unobjectionable purpose and is then used for other purposes. If [ShotSpotter] is recording voices out in public, it needs to be shut down.”
The New York Police Department has begun installing monitoring systems on city streets as part of what they describe as an effort to curb “gun crime.”
One such example was reported back in 2007, in East Oakland. Fusion.net reports an anecdote about a gunshot victim, Tyrone Lyles, whose dying words helped convict his killer back in 2007.
“Why you done me like that, Ar?” he said. “Ar, why you do me like that, dude?”
Contra Costa Times notes that the exchange was used in court, but it would have never been obtained had it not been for a street crime surveillance system called “ShotSpotter.”
The gunshot detection system has been installed in nearly 100 cities across the country, and now New York City is joining them. The city is installing the surveillance system in high crime neighborhoods where they are said to zero in on gun shots and start monitoring.
In just the past week, the NYPD activated hundreds of these microphones throughout Brooklyn and the Bronx, according to the New York Times.
“Today, we are rolling out cutting edge technology to make the city safer, to make our neighborhoods safer, to keep our officers safer,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
He made the announcement along with police commissioner William J. Bratton, saying that, “this gunshot detection system is going to do a world of good in terms of going after the bad guys.”
But Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, thinks there are serious constitutional concerns here.
“We are always concerned about secondary uses of technology that is sold to us for some unobjectionable purpose and is then used for other purposes. If [ShotSpotter] is recording voices out in public, it needs to be shut down,” he told Take Part.
ShotSpotter claims that its microphones “do not have the ability to overhear normal speech or conversations on public streets,” but that clearly contradicts the data recorded in the East Oakland case. The fact that they would say otherwise, is raising a few eyebrows.
“In all cases [where voices have been recorded], the words were yelled loudly, in a public place, at the scene of a gunfire-related crime, and within a few seconds of that event,” the company website writes. “The simple fact is that there has never been a case of a private conversation overheard or monitored by any ShotSpotter sensor anywhere at any time. Period.”
There are other concerns related to this as well. Back in 2013, a WNYC investigation in Newark, NJ, revealed that over 75% of the alerts from the system were false alarms. That means that 3 out of 4 times, the systems was recording the conversations of passersby when no crime had been committed.
But the former Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter, now turned mayor, says that “there is no expectation of privacy on the street when you’re outside yelling on a public street.”