Yet Another Technology is Secretly Listening in on You

The Urban Gun-Detection System helps police pinpoint gunshot locations, but privacy advocates worry about the secondary uses this listening technology holds.

Daniel Rivero from Fusion reports on an interesting piece of urban technology that's able to pinpoint a gunshot's location through a series of microphones placed throughout a city. The microphones, which are part of a larger law-enforcement system called ShotSpotter, allow police to act faster — getting law enforcement to a crime before anyone has had a chance to dial the phones. However, privacy advocates are worried about instances where the microphones have picked up more than gunshot noise. There have been cases where conversations have been overheard and used in court.


The ShotSpotter gun-detection system has been installed in over 90 cities across America, placing them mostly amongst high-crime neighborhoods. The cases where these microphones have picked up conversations have been loud enough to wake the neighborhood.

ShotSpotter's website argues that court cases where conversations have been used to implicate people of a crime have been special cases:

“In all cases [where voices have been recorded], the words were yelled loudly, in a public place, at the scene of a gunfire-related crime, and within a few seconds of that event. The simple fact is that there has never been a case of a private conversation overheard or monitored by any ShotSpotter sensor anywhere at any time. Period.”

In a 2013 investigation of the ShotSpotter system done by WNYC, journalists reported that “75 percent of the gunshot alerts have been false alarms.” Regardless, police are deployed to the area and audio clips are likely taken as evidence. Prior to some gunshots, loud arguments have been used to corroborate a witness' story. But what if there's no gunshot? Can police rightfully use these recording to convict someone? 

Still, with surveillance cameras crowding street corners alongside microphones, moving into neighborhoods, citizens need to start asking what expectation of privacy we should have when we're out in public. How much are we willing to sacrifice for security. It makes us wonder if incriminating evidence were found through these microphones, would we be protected by the Fourth Amendment?

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, told Take Part in an interview:

“We are always concerned about secondary uses of technology that is sold to us for some unobjectionable purpose and is then used for other purposes. If [ShotSpotter] is recording voices out in public, it needs to be shut down.”

Though, we know that 40 percent of Americans won't mind the extra surveillance.

In his Big Think interview, Brad Templeton, a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, weighs in on the issues of privacy and justice. He asks us to think about how much of our privacy we're willing to give away for the sake of maintaining order.

Plants have awareness and intelligence, argue scientists

Research in plant neurobiology shows that plants have senses, intelligence and emotions.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • The field of plant neurobiology studies the complex behavior of plants.
  • Plants were found to have 15-20 senses, including many like humans.
  • Some argue that plants may have awareness and intelligence, while detractors persist.
Keep reading Show less

Vaping changes blood vessels after one use, even without nicotine

E-cigarettes may be safer than traditional cigarettes, but they come with their own risks.


John Keeble
/GETTY
Surprising Science
  • A new study used an MRI machine to examine how vaping e-cigarettes affects users' cardiovascular systems immediately after inhalation.
  • The results showed that vaping causes impaired circulation, stiffer arteries and less oxygen in their blood.
  • The new study adds to a growing body of research showing that e-cigarettes – while likely safer than traditional cigarettes – are far from harmless.
Keep reading Show less

Space is dead: A challenge to the standard model of quantum mechanics

Since the idea of locality is dead, space itself may not be an aloof vacuum: Something welds things together, even at great distances.

Videos
  • Realists believe that there is an exactly understandable way the world is — one that describes processes independent of our intervention. Anti-realists, however, believe realism is too ambitious — too hard. They believe we pragmatically describe our interactions with nature — not truths that are independent of us.
  • In nature, properties of Particle B may be depend on what we choose to measure or manipulate with Particle A, even at great distances.
  • In quantum mechanics, there is no explanation for this. "It just comes out that way," says Smolin. Realists struggle with this because it would imply certain things can travel faster than light, which still seems improbable.
Keep reading Show less