Artificial intelligence

This AI Monitors Millions Of Cars And Tells The Cops If You’re Driving Like A Criminal

Artificial intelligence is helping US cops search for “suspicious” movement patterns, sifting through license plate databases containing billions of records. A New York drug-trafficking case has revealed — and disputed — one of the biggest deployments of the controversial technology to date.

By Thomas BrewerForbes Staff

In In March 2022, David Zayas was driving the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale. His car, a gray Chevrolet, was quite unremarkable, as was his speed. But for the Westchester County Police Department, the car was cause for concern and Zayas a possible criminal; its powerful new AI tool had identified the vehicle’s behavior as suspicious.

Searching a database of 1.6 billion license plate records collected over the past two years from locations in New York State, the AI ​​determined that Zayas’ car was performing a typical journey of a drug dealer. According to a Justice Department prosecutor’s filing, he made nine trips from Massachusetts to different parts of New York between October 2020 and August 2021 following routes known to be used by narcotics dealers and for obviously short stays. So on March 10 last year, Westchester PD pulled him over and searched his car, finding 112 grams of crack, a semi-automatic pistol and $34,000 in cash inside, according to court documents. A year later, Zayas pleaded guilty to a drug trafficking charge.

“Without any judicial control, this type of system works at the whim of each officer who has access to it.”

Ben Gold, lawyer

The previously unreported case is a window into the evolution of AI-powered policing and a harbinger of the constitutional problems that will inevitably accompany it. Typically, Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology is used to search for plates related to specific offences. But in this case, it was used to examine the driving habits of anyone who passed one of Westchester County’s 480 cameras over a two-year period. Zayas’ lawyer, Ben Gold, disputed the AI-collected evidence against his client, calling it “trolling surveillance”.

And he had the data to back it up. A FOIA he filed with Westchester Police revealed that the LPR system was scanning more than 16 million license plates per week, on 480 LPR cameras. Of these systems, 434 were fixed, attached to poles and signs, while the other 46 were mobile, attached to police vehicles. The AI ​​wasn’t just looking at license plates either. He had also taken notes on the make, model and color of the vehicles, which is useful when a license plate number for a suspect vehicle is not visible or is unknown.

For Gold, the system’s analysis of every car captured by a camera amounted to “unprecedented research”. “It is the specter of modern surveillance against which the Fourth Amendment must guard,” he wrote in his motion to suppress the evidence. “It is the systematic development and deployment of a vast surveillance network that invades society’s reasonable expectations of privacy.

“Without any judicial control, this type of system works at the whim of each officer who has access to it.”

Gold declined to comment further on the matter. The Westchester County Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Count with Rekor

The Westchester PD license plate monitoring system was built by Rekor, a NASDAQ-listed $125 million market capitalization artificial intelligence company. Local reports and public government data reviewed by Forbes Rekor has sold its LPR technology to at least 23 police departments and local governments across America, from Lauderhill, Florida to San Diego, California. That doesn’t include more than 40 New York State police departments that can rely on Westchester County’s PD system, which operates out of its Real-Time Crime Center.

“You’ve seen the systems totally metastasize to the point where the capabilities of a local police department would truly shock most people.”

Brett Max Kaufman, senior attorney at the ACLU

Rekor’s big sell is that its software doesn’t require new cameras; it can be installed in those already deployed, whether government, enterprise or consumer owned. He also runs the Rekor Public Safety Network, an opt-in project that aggregates customer vehicle location data for the past three years, since it launched with information from 30 states that at the time read 150 million. plates per month. . This type of centralized database with cross-state data sharing has troubled civil rights activists, especially in light of recent revelations that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office was share license plate reader data with states that have banned abortion.

“The scale of this type of surveillance is incredibly massive,” said Brett Max Kaufman, senior attorney at the ACLU. Forbes. Pointing to both Rekor and Flock, a rival that runs a similar pan-American surveillance network of license plate readers, he described warrantless surveillance of mass citizens like this as “pretty horrendous”.

Rekor declined an interview and did not respond to requests for comment. But Matt Hill, who sold his company OpenALPR to Rekor in 2019 and was its chief scientist before leaving in September 2022, said Forbes the network was probably growing. “I’m pretty sure there would be more cameras in more states now… That would be pretty significant,” he said, noting that non-government clients also provided video. Rekor’s private customers include parking lots, casinos and fast food chains.

With so many agencies now collecting license plate records and the dawn of more advanced, AI-powered surveillance, privacy advocates are sounding the alarm about an expanding technology with few legal protections for the average American. “You’ve seen the systems totally metastasize to the point where the capabilities of a local police department would really shock most people,” Kaufman added. “This is just the beginning of the applications of this technology.”

“A must watch”

The ALPR market is growing thanks to a glut of Rekor rivals, including Flock, Motorola, Genetec, Jenoptik and many others that have federal and state government contracts. They’re each trying to grab a piece of a market estimated worth at least $2.5 billion.

But it’s not easy. Reporting the results of the first quarter of this year, Rekor recorded a turnover of 6.2 million dollars with a net loss of 12.6 million dollars. It reported a similar loss in the same quarter last year. Its stock is currently trading around $2.75 off an April 2021 high of $23.45 per share.

In pursuit of that elusive profit, the market is looking beyond law enforcement to retail and fast food. Corporate giants have toyed with the idea of ​​linking license plates to customer identities. McDonalds and White Castle have already started using ALPR to personalize drive-thru experiences, detecting returning customers and using past orders to guide them through the checkout process or offer personalized promotional offers. The latter restaurant chain uses Rekor technology to do this through a partnership with Mastercard.

With the scale of the expansion, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the watchful eyes of government and corporate oversight – or even know where they are. As Gold discovered while trying to obtain data from the Westchester government, authorities are not legally required to provide information about the location of the cameras.

“Given the vast nature of the LPR network and the need to travel public highways to engage in modern life,” Gold wrote in his deletion motion, “avoiding LPR monitoring is both impractical, if not impossible”.


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