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Five high-tech tools every cop wants for Christmas

December 22, 2015



#5 ShotSpotter

From apps that can recognize faces to microphones that can detect gunfire, police are stepping into the future by employing some high-tech surveillance devices.

The Star spoke with Electronic Frontier Foundation researcher Dave Maass, who studies police surveillance technology. At the EFF, Maass has helped identify some of top high-tech tools police forces in the United States are using.

Although this tech can help law enforcement solve crimes, Maass said there are significant privacy concerns, especially when the devices help collect information on civilians that is stored indefinitely in government databases.

“Really what we’re talking about is tracking the movements of innocent people,” he said.

Here’s a list of some of the latest tools being employed by law enforcement.

1. Automatic licence-plate readers

These devices take pictures of licence plates, which can be converted into text and stored in a database alongside GPS-location information.

Maass said police have installed networks of these cameras in many communities across the U.S., which over time can be used to reconstruct the travel patterns of people in a city or jurisdiction.

“In aggregate you can find out a lot about somebody, you can find out, say, where they sleep at night, what churches they go to, where their doctors are, where they work,” he said.

While the tool was designed to be used to help locate kidnapping victims or for other serious crimes, Maass said, police also use it to find people who owe parking tickets or to identify people who frequent red-light districts.

“There are many applications for License Plate Readers such as traffic and parking management, tollbooth operations and area-access control,” reads http://elsag.com/licenseplatereader.htmthe descriptionEND of one such device on the market.

2. Mobile biometric technology

Mobile biometric tech basically allows police to identify people through biological markers like facial features, irises or fingerprints.

Many of the devices have been developed for Android phones and tablets, Maass said.

Facial-recognition apps can take a picture and match the photo against a suspect database. But they can also scan photos from social media, combing Facebook for wanted suspects, Maass said.

Other apps can take a suspect’s fingerprints right at the scene and match it against ones police have on file.

The tools help law enforcement identify suspects in the field, but Maass said false positives have privacy advocates worried. Some people are also concerned that images taken of civilians may be used to build databases on the general population, Maass said.

“We don’t think that by leaving the house you should have to wear a mask,” he said.

3. Tattoo and graffiti recognition software

Mobile apps used to identify and track tattoos and graffiti help police keep tabs on gang activity.

In Indiana, law enforcement uses the Gang Graffiti Automatic Recognition and Interpretation system, which helps police create a database of what graffiti tags gangs are using, as well as where and when.

“GARI adds new images to a central database, records their GPS coordinates, and records the date and time the images were acquired,” reads an information sheet provided by Homeland Security.

Similar apps exist for tattoos, Maass said.

“By collecting these tattoos, they’re able to map out what gangs are in what neighbourhood,” he said. “People’s tattoos do tell a lot about them.”

4. Automated-vehicle occupancy detection

Cameras mounted in carpool lanes can count how many people are in a vehicle and track licence plates of cars driving by.

The technology uses two cameras to take pictures inside vehicles and determine the number of passengers.

The system can be connected with license-plate recognition cameras to catch HOV lane rule breakers and mail them tickets, Maass said.

5. ShotSpotter

ShotSpotter is a device that helps police and security guards detect gunfire.

Multiple microphones are able to pinpoint the precise location of gunfire, including longitude, latitude, and address.

“Only ShotSpotter Flex combines wide-area acoustic surveillance with centralized cloud-based analysis to provide a gunfire alert and analysis service that is immediate, accurate and cost-effective,” reads a brochure for Shot Spotter.

6. Stingrays

Cell-site simulators, otherwise known as stingray devices, help police find a known cellphone or unknown cellphones that pass through a certain area.

They work by imitating a cellphone tower that tricks mobile phones to connect to them, allowing the stingray to grab data including numbers, texts, calls and websites visited.

The American Civil Liberties Union has identified 58 law-enforcement agencies across America that own stingrays, and the U.S. Department of Justice recently released guidelines on how federal departments should use the devices and what privacy precautions they should take.

The Star News