Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts


Daniel Healow


The use of low-cost cameras and internet-connected sensors is sharply increasing among local law enforcement, businesses, and average Americans. While the motives behind adopting these devices may differ, this trend means more data about the events on Earth is rapidly being collected and aggregated each day. Current and future products, such as drones and self-driving cars, contain cameras and other embedded sensors used by private individuals in public settings. To function, these devices must passively collect information about other individuals who have not given the express consent that is commonly required when one is actively using an online service, such as email or social media. Generally, courts do not recognize a right to privacy once a person enters public spaces. However, the impending convergence of privately-owned sensors gathering information about the surrounding world creates a new frontier in which to consider private liberties, community engagement, and civic duties. This Article will analyze the legal and technological developments surrounding: (1) existing data sources used by local law enforcement; (2) corporate assistance with law enforcement investigations; and (3) volunteering of personal data to make communities safer. After weighing relative privacy interests, this Article will explain, under current laws, the utility of private data to make communities safer, while simultaneously advancing the goals of fiscal responsibility, government accountability, and community engagement.

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