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How Do You End Up on a Police Robot's 'Blacklist'?

crime scene do not cross
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 19, 2019

If you haven't met yet, let us formally introduce you to the Knightscope K5 "autonomous data machine." When it's not falling into fountains or being bullied by drunken idiots, it's protecting businesses and feeding information to police and private security personnel. It's designed, according to its manufacturer, to "cut the crime rate by 50 percent in a geo-fenced area, which would increase housing values and safety while lowering insurance costs."

K5s are employed coast-to-coast, by municipalities; private companies like Microsoft, Uber, and NBC Universal; and even LaGuardia Airport. And there's at least one K5 roaming the streets of Huntington Park, California, on the lookout for "blacklisted" people, cars, and cellphones.

Sci-Fi Surveillance

The K5 can't stop a shooter or chase down a criminal. (Although one did knock over a 16-month-old and run over his foot at a mall in Palo Alto, and who knows what that toddler was up to?) No, the real crime-fighting prowess of the K5 lies entirely in information.

The robot has "360-degree high definition video capture," an ambient noise microphone that can capture audio, and added thermal imaging. It can check up to 300 license plates per minute, And, according to documents released regarding the use of K5s in Huntington: "it also features onboard wireless technology capable of identifying smartphones within its range, down to the MAC and IP addresses."

All the data it collects, including facial recognition, can be recorded and checked against existing lists of known criminals. "The K5 technology can additionally place individual smartphones, faces, and even cars on a 'black' or 'unwanted' list," Huntington claims. "Once on the list, if the K5 detects an unwanted violator the company sends an alert signal." As the folks at Muckrock (who obtained the documents via Freedom of Information requests) point out, the criteria that the city or police would use to add people to a blacklist is notably absent.

Are You on the List?

Obviously, law enforcement could feed the K5 a list of people to search for, including those with warrants, under house arrest, or with other conditions of parole or probation. They might also want to know if cars with expired registration or too many tickets are driving around. (Not sure what they have against smartphones, though.) But what's more curious is how the K5 would add suspicious people, cars, or phones to any list.

So how do you stay off the K5's radar? Stay on your best behavior, especially in public parks and malls, and you'll probably be alright. (No word yet on whether tin foil can scramble the robot's sensors.)

And just be on the lookout for those deadly police drones.

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