(Mis)Uses of Technology
Automated enforcement may ease the burden on law enforcement agencies and direct more officers towards serious crime, but nearly every device given that job has tended to perform poorly. Red light and speed enforcement cameras often get things wrong while simultaneously depriving falsely accused drivers of the opportunity to confront their accusers. And, because cities directly benefit from issued tickets, city officials have tinkered with things like yellow light timing to increase the number of tickets handed out.
Another entry in the law enforcement tech field — ShotSpotter — uses mics and sensors to detect noises suspected to be gunshots and issues alerts to law enforcement officers. Like the tech listed above, ShotSpotter is sometimes wrong. It’s wrongness can actually be quite damaging, since ShotSpotter employees have been accused of overriding decisions made by the AI to find gunshots where none existed and, unbelievably, manually moving the location of the detected gunshot to wherever makes the most sense for the narrative being constructed by law enforcement officers.
The intersection of both forms of tech listed above has come to New York City. As Road & Track reports, the city is utilizing traffic cameras and microphones to ticket drivers for driving too loudly.
The notice posted to Facebook informs the driver that their vehicle was “identified” as “having a muffler that is not in compliance with Section 386” of the city’s traffic laws. Not a single officer was involved in this determination.
The notice then goes on to tell the driver to bring the car to a wastewater treatment plant (?) in Brooklyn to have the vehicle’s exhaust system tested. It also gives the driver a chance to fix the problem before being subjected to any fines. This is better than a regular ticket, which would require a court visit to challenge. And bringing the vehicle in to be tested means the whole thing could go away if it turns out the camera/mic detection system was wrong.
That being said, failing to respond to these notices can subject drivers to fines as high as $875 per ignored notice, so no matter how inconvenient it may be to travel to the designated testing site (which, as noted above, appears to be a wastewater facility), ignoring these faux summons appears to be worst of these options.
Apparently, this ShotSpotter-but-for-cars system has been in place for awhile.
A similar system is about to be put in place in Knoxville, Tennessee.
This is the same system currently being test driven in New York City. An earlier interview with the director of the UK company providing the tech mentions the company has seven systems in use, including the one in New York City. The company also explained how the system works.
What the system won’t do is record conversations. According to Coles, people conversing near these systems won’t produce enough decibels or the right frequencies to activate the system. And while the system may be constantly recording, it’s also constantly deleting, maintaining a running buffer until activated by the right kind of noise.
It’s a limited system that addresses a very specific problem. Unlike ShotSpotter, when this system is wrong, it’s unlikely to result in drivers being accosted by powerful people wielding guns. But it does suggest there’s plenty of marketplace room left for entrants in the traffic surveillance market. All they have to do is find a need cities have yet to realize can possibly be addressed by automation.
Filed Under: ai, automated policing, noise ordinance, nypd