At a time when public distrust of government data collection is at an all-time high, the New York City Police Department is exploring Google Glass, augmented reality glasses, to see how they can impact counter-terrorism efforts and suspect apprehension.
Google Glass is still in its infancy; the only way to obtain the glasses is through the Google Glass Explorer program, a beta test program that makes a select amount of glasses available for $1,500 each. The current NYPD “Explorers” are mostly patrolmen, though Glass could be more
broadly used by the department’s Intelligence and Analytics unit, which helped oversee the massive security effort to keep the Super Bowl safe earlier in February.
“As part of an ongoing interest in the advancements in the field of technology, the NYPD regularly conducts reviews of various equipment, devices, programs and other consumer products for their potential application or utility in the area of policing,” Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis said in a statement.
The specific applications of Glass are still up in the air, though odds are the devices would likely be used to access real-time information about suspects and vehicles. Glass’ video capture function would also act as a permanent record of an arrest, potentially resolving disputes over false arrest or allegations of brutality. In the past, body-worn cameras have proven to reduce both civilian complaints and police use of force.
Of course, this isn’t the first time modern consumer technology has been utilized by a police force. The San Francisco Police Department began using Samsung Galaxy smartphones equipped with specialized apps for tapping into police databases. Susan Merritt, chief information officer with the SFPD, believes Google Glass could prove similarly as useful as smartphones, especially as facial recognition software advances with Glass.
The NYPD itself is no stranger to controversial technologies; in 2012 the department partnered with Microsoft to create the debatably Orwellian Domain Awareness System, software that connects multiple channels of surveillance into a unified city-wide system.
Still, Google Glass presents an even more dubious challenge for law enforcement; aside from general privacy concerns that have already been raised by civil libertarians regarding the glasses, Google Glass has been questionably legal in certain circumstances since its initial launch. Cecilia Abadie, who was ticketed in San Diego for operating a vehicle while wearing Glass recently had her case dismissed.
The impact of the case is still reverberating, however, as 8 US states, New York included, are weighing laws regarding operating vehicles while wearing Glass. How this law will impact the NYPD’s exploratory program remains to be seen.