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Bans on Driving with Google Glass Won't Apply to Police

License-plate scanners, in-car video, and facial recognition software could turn Glass into the next big police gadget.
Image via Coptrax

Eight states are considering some form of legislation that would ban Google Glass while driving. But, notably, bills in at least two of those states make specific exceptions for police officers who are wearing the device—could Glass be the next gadget that makes it into a police cruiser?

The most recent legislation, an Illinois bill introduced last week that would ban "mobile computing headsets" in the driver seat, notes that the ban "does not apply to a law enforcement officer or operator of an emergency vehicle while performing his or her official duties." There is a similar provision in legislation considered in West Virginia last year. Bills in Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Wyoming make no specific mention of law enforcement, but it's possible that a ban wouldn't apply to them.

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Already, police in New York City, Byron, Georgia, and Rialto, California have begun testing out the usefulness of Glass for law enforcement purposes, though Google says it hasn't specifically sent out any of the devices to law enforcement. It's not hard to see their potential usefulness: Police in Byron say that Glass will soon be equipped with apps that can scan drivers licenses; a month ago, a Hungarian company demoed the first "real time automatic number plate recognition" app, or license place scanner; and police in Dubai are using them to catch traffic violators.

If Glass does get used by police, it will almost certainly be used while driving: CopTrax, the Plano, Texas company that helped set the Byron police up with their trial pair of Glass, plans to work in Glass compatibility for its in-car video system and for its database scanning technology. Though Glass' facial recognition software is still in its infancy, that could eventually be rolled into a law-enforcement use of the device.

An article published in Police Magazine in October notes that "tools like CopTrax may make combination in-car, wearable computer systems the wave of the future."

Anything that gives the police more latitude to scan crowds, license plates, and pull over people it may have otherwise ignored is sure to raise some 1984-esque fears, but, actually, groups like the ACLU have come out in support of police body-mounted cameras.

"Although we generally take a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers," the ACLU said last year. "Cameras have the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police against false accusations of abuse."

Of course, Glass's capabilities go a little further than that, and the ACLU also notes that police body cameras "mean that many instances of entirely innocent behavior will be recorded." They have lobbied for strict data retention oversight and transparency about on-body camera use.

Google, for its part, says that they haven't reached out to any law enforcement groups and that the devices being used by the NYC, Byron, and Rialto police through the Explorer program or were purchased in some other way. In any case, it appears as though state legislatures are specifically planning for a future where cops are rigged up with Glass.