Privacy And Rights Violation Flags Up As New York Cops Test Google Glass

The NYPD is reportedly testing Google Glass for use with its patrol officers. “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,” a “ranking New York City law enforcement official” told VentureBeat. That sounds tame enough until you cross-reference that tidbit with the fact that facial recognition software (NameTag) exists for the high-tech specs. Ostensibly, then, police officers could identify you--whether or not you’re a criminal or engaging in suspicious activity--without you knowing it.

Privacy mavens will no doubt hit the roof, but while it’s true that we should be cautious and wary of privacy concerns, I assert that equipping cops with Google Glass may actually result in better protection for citizens.

First of all, on the issue of facial recognition software, there does need to be legislation governing what law enforcement is allowed to do with it. Cops have reason for obeying any such laws, because if there were missteps in the police work, criminals could use that to fight prosecution. (More on that topic in a moment.)

How NameTag facial recognition software works on a smartphone

Further, HMDs like Google Glass are really just an evolution of the ubiquitous dash cams you see on police cruisers. Those dash cams have helpful in identifying suspects, documenting crimes, and so on--and remember, that video captures not just what citizens are doing, but also what police are doing, thus thwarting potential abuses. If anything, wearing Google Glass puts more pressure on cops to do everything as cleanly as possible, because the specs can capture everything they see and do. (Surely, protocol would dictate that they activate the video feature when they roll up on a situation.)

It is inevitable, however, that some lawyer will challenge an arrest, or evidence, or an entire conviction by claiming that his client’s privacy was violated. It’s only a matter of time before such a case ends up at the Supreme Court, and that the ruling that results will set important legal precedents.

We mustn't be too cavalier about allowing this sort of technology to be in the hands of law enforcement without any restrictions or oversight--those are non-negotiables--but it’s also important to see the potential upsides of using technology to help cops do their jobs better.

On a final note: How amazing will the TV show “COPS” be with officers tricked out with Google Glass?