CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Oswald on AI and Emerging Technology in Policing

Policing technology innovation and the required investment of public funds must be based solidly on the boundaries of the law and good science. Although not a substitute, ethical consideration and debate can help to establish the moral underpinning for the use of new technologies, bringing to the surface underlying inequalities or difficult choices between particular aims or values. The big themes underpinning the proceedings of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and West Midlands Police data ethics committee (the first of its kind in UK policing) demonstrate the operationalization of many of the key factors that must be considered in the human rights necessity test. The technical and statistical aspects of policing AI cannot, and should not, be isolated from the legal, contextual, operational and ethical considerations, as each will influence the other, and thus how technology is evaluated. It is important however that laws applicable to specific policing activities are not overlooked, such as those relating to stop-and-search and its application to algorithmic tools.

A three-pillar approach could contribute to achieving trustworthy use of emerging technologies in UK policing: first, governing law plus guidance and policy interpreted for the relevant context; secondly, standards, both ethical standards attached to personal responsibility and scientific standards; and thirdly, people at every levels within policing who are committed to accountability; all of which should be subject to rolling independent oversight. The West Midlands committee has provided additional and transparent positive pressure on the force to improve – productive challenge - as well as a certain level of validation for the projects that have progressed. In order to ensure a stable three-pillar approach however, there needs to be fewer generalizations and more specifics as regards the application of relevant law to the deployment of emerging technologies, recognizing the importance of a human rights based approach, combined with agreed scientific standards to help us decide whether things ‘work’ in the policing context.

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