Today, the Policing Project at New York University School of Law released a privacy audit and assessment of ShotSpotter, the most widely used gunshot detection technology in the United States, currently operating in nearly 100 jurisdictions across the country.
ShotSpotter has been operating for nearly 20 years, and during that time, some have raised concerns about the potential for ShotSpotter sensors being used for targeted voice surveillance by law enforcement.
The Policing Project’s audit has led to substantial change in ShotSpotter operations and policy. Our assessment found that the risk of law enforcement using ShotSpotter for targeted voice surveillance is already relatively low, but we nonetheless offered several recommendations to make ShotSpotter even more privacy protective. Chief among our recommendations were that the company:
Substantially reduce the duration of audio stored on ShotSpotter sensors;
Commit to denying requests and challenging subpoenas for sensor audio;
Commit to not sharing specific sensor location; and
Improve internal controls and supervision regarding audio access.
In response to our audit, SST has adopted nearly all of our recommendations verbatim, with only slight modifications or qualifications based on how ShotSpotter functions.
Our report also offered guidance on data sharing with third parties. Although we do not see this as a personal privacy issue, we believe this is one area where the company can and should refine its approach. SST has taken these comments seriously and is in the process of thinking through its response.
“In subjecting itself to this audit, ShotSpotter has demonstrated a commendable commitment to having its technology critically examined, and to modifying its technology to balance public safety with individual privacy,” said Barry Friedman, Policing Project Faculty Director. “Other policing technology companies should follow ShotSpotter’s lead and proactively embrace their responsibility to protect individual liberty with the products they distribute.”
Our privacy assessment of ShotSpotter comes on the heels of another Policing Project report – the first report from Axon’s AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board (of which Friedman is a member). This report, produced by the Policing Project on the Board’s behalf, led to Axon’s commitment to not proceed with the development of face matching products, including adding these capabilities to body-worn cameras.
These engagements with ShotSpotter and Axon are two rare examples of private companies taking steps to invite outside, independent audits of their products and changing their practices and policies based on those assessments. It is our hope that this type of open audit and assessment—whether performed by us or by others—will become the norm for companies selling technologies to governments and policing agencies. We hope other policing technology companies will follow SST’s example and proactively embrace their responsibility in protecting individual liberty.
Read the full report at www.PolicingProject.org/shotspotter.