The AI-Enabled Cameras Surveilling Towns Across America‬

On CYBER we talk about how Flock, an unknown surveillance-camera company, is becoming a major tool of American police.
March 12, 2021, 2:15pm
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The ad begins with a sweeping drone shot of an all-American suburb fit with lush, green trees and cul-de-sacs. A sedan drives down winding streets of large bungalows, garbage and recycling bins ready for pickup at the end of long laneways. This could be anywhere in America: Ohio, Texas, Oregon, or California.

“We started Flock to eliminate non-violent crime,” says Meg Heusel, who works in marketing for the little-known company that hawks smart-surveillance cameras. “That's because 87 percent of non-violent crime goes unsolved throughout the U.S. and that’s not due to a lack of trying on the law enforcement side.”

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It’s a lofty pitch, but Georgia-based Flock has been quietly selling AI-powered cameras to police and community associations across the country that can spot and clock license plate data it says will help solve crimes and track down suspects. All combined, the network of cameras, which the company calls “TALON,” has become something of a panopticon of national surveillance, recording license plates and vehicle movements nationwide. 

And accessing that data is only a click away for law enforcement departments who buy into the service.

Through public records requests, Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox obtained a massive cache of emails from nearly 20 police departments around the country, detailing how TALON and other Flock products are used by law enforcement. It turns out cops have been doing things like buying Flock cameras and positioning them in the parking lots of box store favorites Burger King, Walmart, and Lowes (in locations all over the U.S.), places where thousands of people drive in and have their license plates unknowingly scanned then put into a database.

Cox is on CYBER this week to talk about his scoop and detail yet another example of how the surveillance industry is booming in America and police purchases are fueling it.