Talking tech since 2003

There’s no question about the world-changing potential for Google Glass, and the barrage of imitative wearables sure to follow. But a new report from VentureBeat published yesterday reveals that Glass is currently being tested for use in the field by the New York Police Department, and the initiative could have radical consequences for life in the Big Apple.

According to the post, the NYPD has recently received a bunch of Glass units through Google’s Explorer Program, and an unnamed law enforcement official offered up this statement regarding what the department will be using them for:

“We signed up, got a few pairs of the Google glasses, and we’re trying them out, seeing if they have any value in investigations, mostly for patrol purposes. We’re looking at them, you know, seeing how they work […]

We think it could help impact patrol operations in New York City. We shall see.”

For its part, Google explicitly denied that the company is actively working with the NYPD in this test, offering up a statement that simply explains that anyone who meets the required criteria can sign up for the Explorer Program:

“The Google Glass Explorer program includes people from all walks of life, including doctors, firefighters and parents. Anyone can sign up to become a Glass Explorer, provided he or she is a U.S. resident and over the age of 18.”

The immediate uses for Glass in police work are relatively self-evident: as the post points out, police officers equipped with the tech could use it to more quickly access information on suspects before or even during interviews, and its video-recording capabilities could also be utilized to reduce or even eliminate paperwork. Moreover, officers equipped with always-recording Glass would be, hopefully, less likely to engage in behavior unbecoming of an officer. Knowing that their every move and word is being recorded could, conceivably, cut down on abuses of power.

On the flip side, of course, are the privacy rights of citizens, and the ways that Glass-equipped police officers could trample those rights. A post on the Verge published today reports that Minnesota Senator Al Franken has published an open letter decrying NameTag, a third-party Google Glass app (not approved or sanctioned by Google, mind you) that is meant for taking advantage of the device’s facial recognition powers. NameTag purports to scan people from afar and to bring up a person’s social media accounts on Twitter or Facebook, offering the Glass-wearer instantaneous personal data, all without the person’s consent.

One could argue that a person putting personal information on Twitter or Facebook in the first place essentially waives certain privacy rights altogether, but to say that most social media users could’ve envisioned a world with Google Glass when uploading pics from some party two years ago might be a stretch.

The point here is that police officers armed with the ability to identify and research any person at any time could begin to break down citizens’ natural expectations of privacy. Just as giving unrestricted surveillance power to the government takes for granted the idea that the government is always doing what’s best for citizens, so too would giving potentially invasive and ever-present surveillance powers to law enforcement officers.

I’d like to believe that police officers equipped with better tools to catch bad guys would mean a better and safer world for everyone. But I’m also cynical enough to remember that the definition of “bad guy” gets increasingly hazy day by day.

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