Blurring the lines between reality and science fiction, Jackson has become the first town in Wyoming to adopt an artificial intelligence-powered mass surveillance system developed by Flock Safety, inciting intense debate about the future of public safety as the fine line between national security and personal privacy teeters.
Following a tight vote last month, the town council of Jackson, Wyoming, agreed to position 30 solar-powered license plate recognition (LPR) cameras throughout the town, feeding data to a centralized surveillance hub run by private company Flock Safety.
Jonathan Schechter, a councilman who grudgingly supported the measure, acknowledged the implicit concerns with the technology.
“I don’t like this particular arc of this particular part of history. I’m screaming ‘stop’ as I vote ‘yes,’” Schechter lamented, according to Jackson Hole Daily.
The cameras, part of Flock Safety’s “Falcon” line, boast instant law enforcement alerts, forming part of their overarching AI-powered surveillance system, aptly named “TALON”. Variations of the technology have names like “Raven”, an audio crime detection system, and “Wing”, which analyzes footage for vehicle identifiers. The surveillance system bears an uncanny resemblance to fictional tech used in TV series like “Person of Interest” and “Black Mirror”.
However, Flock Safety insists their technology only records and retains data on vehicles, not individuals, for 30 days or the period mandated by law. The technology does, however, enable “convoy analysis” – tracking vehicle proximity and travel patterns – a feature that has drawn scrutiny and led the American Civil Liberties Union to brand it “Orwellian”.
The LPR cameras are now in over 2,000 cities across 43 states, according to the Daily Wire.
The technology facilitates unfettered law enforcement access to a suspect’s vehicle history, even across state lines, through their “multi-geo search” feature. Even civilians can purchase Flock Safety cameras, with hundreds of homeowners associations now employing them as preferred security tools.
Garrett Langley, CEO and co-founder of Flock Safety, has been open about the wide applicability of his technology, including potential use by immigration authorities, stating, “Yes, if it was legal in a state, we would not be in a position to stop them.”
Founded in 2017 with an initial investment of $230 million, as well as $380 million raised in recent years, Flock Safety is currently valued at approximately $3.5 billion.
Flock Safety’s security system represents a shift towards sophisticated mass surveillance in the name of public safety, a shift that is bound to provoke profound conversations across the country about the balance between security and privacy.