Growing AI Surveillance Network In California Sign Of Things To Come

News Image By Tyler Durden/Activist Post April 09, 2024
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If you're not a criminal then you have nothing to hide, right?  This is the perpetual argument used in favor of state mass surveillance throughout history.  It's the underlying justification at the birth of every surveillance agency from the Soviet Cheka to the German Stasi and beyond.  Don't commit crimes and "you have nothing to worry about."

Of course, this argument requires the public to overlook a simple and universal truth - That which is legal today can be made illegal tomorrow, and the people who make these decisions are often not good people.  With the ability to track and trace the behavior and movements of the citizenry in real time, the temptation to abuse that technology to increase government power is exponential.  That is to say, mass surveillance tends to inspire governments to abuse their authority and treat people like criminals even when they are innocent.

As we witnessed around the world during the pandemic lockdowns, authoritarianism can rear its ugly head without much warning and with incredible speed.  Some western countries (and even a few American states) aggressively sought to make resistance to covid restrictions criminal, to the point that authorities were legislating and even building "camps" designed to lock up covid offenders.  These plans were of course denied by political leaders even as they were putting the pieces in place to implement them.

All of this was done in the name of a virus with a 99.8% survival rate.  What might they do when a far more severe crisis comes along?

We have seen how far our governments are willing to go to go to secure greater power over the populace; they have proven they're not trustworthy enough to handle unilateral oversight. With real-time AI based surveillance in place the dangers are far greater.  Across the country there has been a quiet rollout of a new algorithm driven camera network from a company called Flock Safety.

Flock offers AI integrated cameras with off-grid options (solar) that they say are meant primarily for license plate reading and vehicle identification.  California Governor Gavin Newsom recently applauded the creation of a new 480-camera network from Flock that will ostensibly focus on the Oakland metro area.

First, it's clear that Newsom's ongoing claims that California crime rates are dropping are not accurate.  There are a number of ways states and cities manipulate this data to hide rising crime, but they can't hide the increasing public complaints or the measures they are forced to take to appease the public.  Installing hundreds of AI cameras are, in a way, an admission that all is not well in the Golden State.

Second, it's also clear that this is an attempt by Newsom to address the exploding crime concerns within California without necessarily increasing law enforcement budgets.  The expansion of AI cameras is funded in large part by the Biden Administration's infrastructure legislation passed in 2022. Biden authorized states to utilize up to 10 percent of the bill's $15.6 billion highway safety funds to purchase cameras and other "automated traffic enforcement" tools.

Similar to Amazon's "Ring" cameras and Alexa devices, these cameras combine to create a vast connected system of private and government surveillance that can be legally accessed by local law enforcement as well as federal agencies.  The difference with the Flock cameras is that they are connected to cell phone towers and use AI to identify pre-designated vehicles, immediately alerting authorities to their presence.  In other words, it's a live centralized tracking system that is always watching.

Flock in an effort to mitigate public concerns states that their cameras are not to be used for simple traffic violations and do not contain facial recognition software.  However, law enforcement agencies can easily run Flock footage through their own facial recognition systems and the potential for abuse is high.

The ACLU has recently opposed the cameras, and though some of their complaints are based on ridiculous far-left talking points like "racial profiling" or cameras being used to "track people leaving red states to get abortions," some of their arguments are valid.

The danger of AI mass surveillance being used as a traffic citation machine and revenue generator for cities that are broke is one concern.  Another is the constant interstate tracking of individuals simply because they ended up on a government list for the wrong opinions.  The ACLU notes that the fine print within Flock's contract allows them to use collected data for essentially any purpose they see fit.  They deny this would happen, but there's nothing legally stopping them from selling data or disclosing data to malicious parties.

Because the system is owned by a private corporation, cities and states are able to dodge a large number of regulations and restrictions on surveillance which has made the option enticing to politicians and police departments.  The next obvious step (which is likely already in place at least in limited form) is a comprehensive real time national biometric tracking system integrated into already existing cameras.  This is exactly what has been put in place in Orwellian societies like China, and the West is not very far behind.

The Flock cameras also represent the ongoing merger between governments and corporations in an effort to assert greater control over the populace. The problem is not only relegated to Big Tech and social media platforms censoring speech at the request of politicians; there's also the problem of governments using corporate partners to circumvent legal restrictions on surveillance. Closing this loophole is a difficult issue dealing with the rights of private companies vs the rights of individuals and the public, but it needs to be addressed all the same.

Originally published at Activist Post

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