Massachusetts Lawmakers Urge Federal Probe into ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection System

A group of Massachusetts legislators, including Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, are calling for a federal investigation into the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system, citing concerns over potential civil rights violations and biased deployment in predominantly Black and Latino communities, which could have significant implications for the regulation of surveillance technology and its impact on civil rights." This description focuses on the primary topic of the article (the investigation into ShotSpotter), the main entities involved (Massachusetts legislators, Senators Markey and Warren, and the ShotSpotter system), the context of the issue (civil rights violations and biased deployment in communities of color), and the potential consequences of the investigation (regulation of surveillance technology and its impact on civil rights).

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Massachusetts Lawmakers Urge Federal Probe into ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection System

Massachusetts Lawmakers Urge Federal Probe into ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection System

A group of Massachusetts legislators, including Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, along with Representative Ayanna Pressley, are calling for a federal investigation into the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system. The lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General on May 14, 2024, expressing concerns over potential civil rights violations and biased deployment of the technology in predominantly Black and Latino communities.

Why this matters: This investigation has significant implications for the use of surveillance technology in communities of color, highlighting the need for accountability and transparency in the development and deployment of such systems. The outcome of this probe could set a precedent for the regulation of similar technologies and their impact on civil rights.

The letter, also signed by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, requests an investigation into the federal funding of ShotSpotter through grants from the Department of Homeland Security. The lawmakers argue that the system's use may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance.

In the letter, the legislators wrote, "Several recent reports have cast substantial doubt on the accuracy and effectiveness of the 'ShotSpotter' gunshot detection system and have raised serious questions about its contribution to unjustified surveillance and over-policing of Black, Brown, and Latino communities... We request that the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigate DHS's spending of taxpayer dollars on ShotSpotter, including potential violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

The concerns raised by the lawmakers echo those found in a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which revealed that nearly 70% of ShotSpotter alerts in Boston resulted in no evidence of gunfire from 2020 to 2022. The ACLU report also showed that the technology was predominantly deployed in communities of color, particularly in the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods.

Senator Markey, a co-author of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, has been a vocal advocate for addressing the potential biases and privacy issues associated with surveillance technologies. In December 2023, he introduced the Eliminating Bias in Algorithmic Systems Act (BIAS), which aims to ensure that federal agencies using artificial intelligence have an office of civil rights focused on combating AI bias and discrimination.

SoundThinking, the company behind ShotSpotter, has defended the technology, stating that it complies with all regulations and does not violate civil rights. The company argues that the system is deployed in areas with high gun violence rates and helps save lives. However, the lawmakers maintain that the biased deployment of ShotSpotter perpetuates over-policing and unjustified surveillance of communities of color, exposing residents to potentially dangerous situations.

As the federal investigation unfolds, the use of ShotSpotter and its impact on civil rights will remain under scrutiny. The lawmakers' request highlights the need for a thorough examination of the technology's effectiveness, accuracy, and potential biases to ensure that federal funding is being used appropriately and in compliance with civil rights laws.

Key Takeaways

  • MA lawmakers request federal investigation into ShotSpotter gunshot detection system.
  • Concerns raised over potential civil rights violations and biased deployment.
  • Lawmakers cite inaccurate alerts and over-policing in communities of color.
  • Investigation to examine federal funding and compliance with Civil Rights Act.
  • Outcome could set precedent for regulation of surveillance technologies.