Serious questions are being raised about the privacy threat of self-driving vehicles, following revelations that San Francisco police are being encouraged to use images of them to aid in investigations.
A internal training document for the California police, recently pointed out in a vice reportstates that “autonomous vehicles continuously record their surroundings and have the potential to help with investigative leads.”
More alarmingly, the document suggests that this is already common practice. “Investigations have already done this on several occasions,” he continues.
San Francisco is something of a hotbed for self-driving car testing. General Motors’ Cruise offers a free robotaxi service there since February and Waymo provides employees driverless rides in the city. Other companies also have test permits.
The three-page police document highlights the areas in which Cruise and Waymo are operational and also offers some interesting information on how officers are asked to handle driverless cars.
Among the instructions are “Do not open the vehicle for non-emergency matters” and “No citations can be issued…if the vehicle has no one in the driver’s seat”, but these are the advice on how the VAs can help with investigations that have particularly alarmed privacy activists.
They argue that the combination of a network of fixed-location cameras and the images and data amassed by AVs on the move will provide surveillance at an unprecedented level.
Chris Gilliard, a visiting scholar at Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center, told Vice that “as companies continue to make public roads their proving grounds for these vehicles, everyone should understand them for what they are: rolling surveillance devices that extend existing widespread spy technologies. ”
Although the San Francisco Police Department declined Vice’s request to comment on the internal document, Waymo and Cruise were more open, both seeking to reassure users.
A Waymo spokesperson said the The company requires law enforcement to follow valid legal procedures in making such requests, while Cruise said she shares images and other information when accompanied by a warrant or warrant. valid subpoena, but that she could also voluntarily share information if there was a risk to public safety.
However, with AVs already facing tough regulatory hurdles and an ongoing battle to win over skeptical members of the public, the suggestion that they will become an evidence-gathering tool for police is unlikely to go down well with the public. manufacturers.