Law enforcement in Jackson, Mississippi has launched a pilot program that allows officers to tap into private surveillance devices during criminal investigations. On 30 October 2020, the AP reported that the trial, now signed off by the city, will last for 45 days. The small trial could herald a wider rollout with participating residents in the future. The pilot program uses technology provided by Pileum and Fusus, an IT consultancy firm and a provider of a cloud-based video, sensor, and data feed platform for the law enforcement market.
TV Station WLBT of Jackson, MS reported that up to five city-owned and five private cameras will be used during the trial. However, if the trial is considered successful, residents could then be encouraged to submit their own cameras to the collection exponentially expanding the surveillance capabilities of local law enforcement.
Once a crime is reported, police will be able to "access cameras in the area" to examine elements such as potential escape routes or in order to track getaway vehicles by way of a "Real Time Crime Center" system. Residents and businesses may be able to voluntarily participate in the future, if the trial continues, as long as they sign a waiver allowing law enforcement to patch into real-time live streams produced by their surveillance cameras, such as the Amazon Ring Doorbell product line, for example when crimes may be occurring.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba cited Amazon's Ring door cameras as an example product. According to Lumumba, this permission would allow police to track criminal activity and would "save [us] from having to buy a camera for every place across the city." The trial has been made available free of cost to Mississippi's capital city.
However, the pilot may prompt privacy concerns. As noted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital freedom advocacy organization, handing over control of live streams to law enforcement may not only allow the covert recording of a willing participant's comings-and-goings but neighbors, too. "The footage from your front door includes you coming and going from your house, your neighbors taking out the trash, and the dog walkers and delivery people who do their jobs in your street," the EFF says. "In Jackson, this footage can now be live-streamed directly onto a dozen monitors scrutinized by police around the clock. Even if you refuse to allow your footage to be used that way, your neighbor's camera pointed at your house may still be transmitted directly to the police."
The pilot's launch may be a surprise to some residents, as Jackson city officials voted in August 2020 to pre-emptively ban police forces from using facial recognition technology to identify potential suspects on city streets. The news comes as the city grapples with its deadliest year on record. According to WLBT-TV and FBI figures, 110 homicides have been reported in the city this year.
In September 2020, a leaked FBI analysis bulletin highlighted how smart doorbells could also be turned against law enforcement, as live feeds could warn suspected criminals of police presence, alert them to incoming visits from such 'unwanted' visitors, and may show suspects where officers are a safety risk when it comes to property raids.
A Ring spokesperson told reporters, "This is not a Ring program and Ring is not working with any of the companies or the city in connection with this program."
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