Flock Safety is a rapidly expanding company that sells license plate readers to police and neighborhoods across the United States.
Since its founding in 2017, Flock says it has contracted with more than 1,200 law enforcement partners in more than 40 states. It provides its services to more than 2,000 neighborhoods, and is expanding its product offering beyond license plate readers to include a gunshot detection system.
Now, privacy advocates are warning that the extensive surveillance network could be weaponized against people seeking abortions in states that enacted bans and restrictions on the practice following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal abortion protections, including allowing police to monitor abortion clinics. Vehicles around.
Technology like Flock’s “could be used to criminalize people seeking reproductive health, and further erode people’s ability to monitor their daily lives and move undetected,” said Chris Gilliard, a technology fellow at the Social Science Research Council, an independent nonprofit. Research organization.
Flock says the Supreme Court ruling on abortion and warnings about how law enforcement could use its services in abortion-related cases haven’t prompted it to rethink its mission: “Flock’s mission as a business is to eradicate crime,” said Josh Thomas, vice president of external affairs at Flock. “Our position in Flock is consistent in response to the Dobbs decision. Our perspective is that we are not legislating, and our intent is not specific to any particular legislation.
Thomas said the company “provides the confidence” and “technology” to democratically elected governing bodies and their chosen law enforcement personnel to enforce the laws they pass.
“We expect cities in California to do differently than cities in Texas or Illinois or Rhode Island,” he continued. “Therefore, it would be wrong to categorize the herd for or against any particular issue. We support local governments enforcing their local laws.
License plate reader companies are just one of many technology companies faces investigation For ways to provide data or technology to law enforcement seeking to prosecute abortion cases. In AugustFor example, Facebook has come under fire for providing Nebraska police with private messages between a mother and daughter in an investigation into an alleged illegal abortion.
The information gathered by companies like Flock is particularly dangerous, experts say, because it can help police paint a deeply detailed picture of the movements of specific vehicles and individuals.
License plate readers, usually installed on streetlights, highway overpasses, or police squad cars, capture details of passing cars and help police track vehicles passing through specific locations or neighborhoods.
The information is collected in a database that the police can search to see where certain vehicles were in a certain time frame or what cars were in a certain area.
Flock’s website says its products help capture “objective evidence” that is then run through machine-learning-enabled software, helping police identify vehicles that may be traveling with a suspect’s car, for example. Police can also upload a picture of their own car and the software “matches vehicles recorded by Flock Safety cameras in the last 30 days,” the company says.
Flock’s Talon platform, its national law enforcement search network, allows the police departments it works with to share their license plate displays with hundreds of other police departments across the country. Thus, law enforcement in a state where abortion is legal may share data with police in a state where abortion is prohibited. For example, in California, the Vallejo Police DepartmentIt has located nearly 400,000 vehicles in the past month, sharing its license plate reader data with law enforcement in Texas and Arizona.
It points out that Flock does not own the data and that residents can see how the city collects data through Flock’s transparency portal.
“Cities and/or law enforcement agencies own the data, they decide who they share their footage with and how they want to enforce their laws — not the herd —,” Thomas said.
Dave Moss, director of investigations at the civil rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, asked current and prospective Flock customers in countries where abortion is legal to survey the company’s position on abortion laws and asked, “Can I trust: Can I trust this company with our people’s data”?
Many surveillance agencies offer their services as a way to increase public safety, but “surveillance isn’t really about benefiting society or protecting people — it’s about implementing the political goals of those in power,” he argued.