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    HomeNewsHeadlinesEyes everywhere: Police are requesting self-driving car footage for video evidence

    Eyes everywhere: Police are requesting self-driving car footage for video evidence


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    In December 2021, San Francisco police were actively investigating the murder of an Uber driver. During their review of local surveillance footage, they noticed a grey Dodge Charger that they believed was driven by the shooter. They also observed a fleet of Waymo’s self-driving cars passing by the area at around the same time. Realizing the potential evidence that could be obtained from these cars, Sergeant Phillip Gordon obtained a search warrant for Waymo’s footage of that morning. The warrant was quickly authorized, and Waymo provided the requested footage. This case highlights the increasing reliance of law enforcement on self-driving car camera recordings to solve crimes as these vehicles become more prevalent in major American cities like San Francisco, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. In fact, in Waymo’s main markets, nine search warrants have been issued for their footage, and one has been sent to rival autonomous driving firm Cruise, with the possibility of more being issued. While this footage provides new avenues for investigation, it also raises concerns among privacy advocates who argue that it presents another form of surveillance and encroachment on privacy. Self-driving cars cover a wider range of footage as they crisscross the city, making it more convenient for law enforcement to obtain videos from one company rather than reaching out to multiple businesses with security systems. Chris Gilliard, a fellow at the Social Science Research Council, emphasizes the importance of preserving privacy and the ability to go about our daily lives without constant surveillance. Waymo and Cruise have protocols in place for law enforcement requests, requiring a warrant or court order, and they aim to provide the minimum necessary information to satisfy these requests. However, privacy advocates remain concerned about the potential invasion of privacy facilitated by the growing Internet of Things (IoT) landscape, which includes devices like doorbells and home security cameras that collect vast amounts of data. Amazon’s Ring doorbells, for example, have gained popularity among consumers and law enforcement, raising concerns about the unauthorized sharing of footage. Waymo and Cruise, although not as prevalent as Ring, capture a wide range of videos during their routes, providing additional sources of evidence for law enforcement. Despite blurring license plates and faces in their footage to protect bystander privacy, some warrants specifically request clear and accurate recordings. Experts argue that comprehensive privacy legislation is needed to address these broad requests from law enforcement. Police who have obtained footage from self-driving cars view it as a useful tool that can be used judiciously to build cases and potentially exonerate suspects. Detective Trisha Jackson from the Mesa Police Department in Arizona shared a case where Waymo’s footage helped refute a teen’s claim. In this particular case, reviewing the Waymo footage allowed Jackson to quickly close the case and allocate police resources effectively. However, some individuals, like John McCammon in San Francisco, have mixed feelings about law enforcement seeking this kind of evidence. While he understands the potential benefits, he is cautious about granting police access to new surveillance tools. Despite Waymo’s assistance in solving a crime in his area, McCammon still regards the self-driving service as a “constant irritant.” Overall, the usage of self-driving car footage by law enforcement remains a subject of debate, with concerns about privacy and the need for appropriate regulations to protect individuals’ rights.

    Credit: The Star : News Feed

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