Pandemic maps are all the rage, these days, but the latest one from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a little different; instead of viral hotspots, it displays a plague of official snoopiness, arranged by location and sortable by technology. While it documents intrusions that predate the current crisis, the Atlas of Surveillance is all too relevant to the age of coronavirus. Concerns about curtailing contagion help to normalize detailed scrutiny of people’s lives and drive us toward a pervasive surveillance state.
“The Atlas of Surveillance database, containing several thousand data points on over 3,000 city and local police departments and sheriffs’ offices nationwide, allows citizens, journalists, and academics to review details about the technologies police are deploying, and provides a resource to check what devices and systems have been purchased locally,” EFF announced on July 13.
Users can click on the map to see what surveillance technologies are used in specified localities. If you want to see what’s going on in your area, the map is searchable by the name of a city, county, or state. The map can also be filtered according to technologies such as body-worn cameras, drones, and automated license plate readers.
The nearest entry to me is in Prescott Valley, Arizona, where the police department is among the hundreds that have partnered with Ring, the Amazon-owned doorbell-camera company.
The Ring partnerships don’t give police live feeds, but they can request video recordings regarding a specific time and area. While participation by Ring customers is voluntary, the partnerships are “a clever workaround for the development of a wholly new surveillance network, without the kind of scrutiny that would happen if it was coming from the police or government,” warns Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law and author of The Rise of Big Data Policing.
Researchers find few crimes solved by the voluntary surveillance partnerships, but the home-security marketing of the Ring arrangement nudges the culture toward an easier acceptance of a panopticon that operates outside of the full range of civil liberties protections.