The Downside of Technological Advancement and Law Enforcement

The exponential growth of computer processing and the ability of machines to take over functions that used to be managed by human beings, may not be the type of progress people are hoping for, especially in law enforcement. If machines can determine guilt without question, we will all become prisoners of a system we never asked for and one that will impede our freedom in ways the public has never imagined.

For example, in a group discussion, one of my students confessed that she’d received a ticket in the mail a few days after driving on a particular road. Two sensors on E-ZPass calculated the time it took to get from one point to the other and when it was too short, she was issued a speeding ticket automatically.

In previous generations, if a dozen cars were speeding you’d need the same number of police officers with radar detectors to stop them all. But if there was only one police officer and 12 speeding cars, he or she would have to decide which car to stop, knowing eleven more would be free to keep on driving. In the past, most drivers considered the possibility that they might get a ticket when speeding, but the odds were against it.

With this new technology, every person’s speed can be measured precisely between two E-ZPass points. How will society change when people know that every time they lose track of their speed and go a little too fast they’ll be fined? One could make a case for cruise control, but that’s not a standard feature in most cars, nor do the majority of people feel comfortable being on auto-pilot behind the wheel of a machine that weighs 3,000 to 4,000 pounds and could malfunction going 65 mph.

Not only is it unethical to fine people every time they make a mistake, the system is flawed. Gone are the days when you had to provide a license as proof of identity. Now, technological “advances” are fining the vehicle owners and there’s no way to prove— beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt— who was driving the car at the time the ticket was issued.
Imagine your car being stolen and the thief speeding away. Not only will you have been the victim of a crime, you’d also be charged for it.

That might be an extreme example, but take the case of a man who loaned his car to his brother. A week later he— not the brother— received a citation. Not only was it a hefty fine, but he had to complete 9 hours of community service because it was his 2nd ticket in a year. Could the brother pay the fine? Yes, but proof of identity is required for community service, which meant he did the time for a crime he didn’t commit.

In class, we took the discussion to a new level and realized there must be new automation that turns sensor data into tickets. Humans were hired to design a system that citizens knew nothing about, and they did so using our tax dollars. Do our elected representatives know or care about the rules and how they are enforced? Why wasn’t the voice of the people considered before millions of tax dollars were spent designing and implementing a system that does nothing to “Protect and Serve” the citizens of the community?

We realized that this was just one example wherein a computer is making legal decisions and when— not if— advances increase at the predicted rate, we can expect technology to make more and more decisions that will affect every facet of our lives. This begs the question… what kinds of laws, policies and support do we need to help us deal with this kind of dehumanizing system?

Technology is powerful, but when that power is abused, we become pawns in a game with hidden rules and covert strategies that are designed to limit our freedom. Perhaps if there were a spirit of transparency for the departments and individuals who were responsible for designing and approving this system we wouldn’t resent the very government that we’re funding. But, how can “they” hear the voice of the people if we don’t know who “they” are.
In short, if our government is giving machines the latitude to issue tickets, then perhaps they should consider having our cars pay the fines.

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