New York, NY – After videos of the NYPD utilizing a robot dog in the Bronx went viral last month, New Yorkers have debated the merits of utilizing military technology to police neighborhoods and how groundbreaking robot technology will affect the lives of New Yorkers.
As a result, Council Member Ben Kallos is introducing Int. 2240 which would expand the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology or POST Act, which requires the NYPD to be more transparent on its surveillance and technology tools. The expansion would create a ban against weaponizing remote or autonomous robots that interact with the public in the City of New York.
“No one wants a future where our City looks and feels like a Black Mirror episode,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “The technology to arm robots already exists and in order to prevent anything like that from happening we have to act now before the technology gets ahead of the laws.”
“After years of unchecked growth, it’s time to ground the NYPD drone program,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Killer robots may sound science fiction, but they’ve already been used by other police departments. If the NYPD is willing to waste more than $70,000 on a robotic spy dog, we can’t really know what is next. Council Member Kallos’s bill would be a landmark protection against the next wave of NYPD drones. We urge the council to take action immediately.”
While the Boston Dynamics robot “Digidog” tested by the NYPD was teleoperated and not currently equipped with weapons, there is no policy or transparency on all current and future capabilities of technology loaned to or procured by New York City law enforcement. For example, as explained in a recent Curbed article, the robot has a “docking function that can instruct the robot to ‘return home’ by just pushing a button”, a clearly autonomous function with potentially harmful ramifications for citizens.
The concern for weaponized military technology has grown concurrently with concerns for municipal law enforcement departments utilizing military technology while policing neighborhoods. Locally, recent examples of the city’s use as a testing ground for innovative policing technology, such as IBM’s software testing enabling law enforcement to search surveillance video footage for skin color, have led to an outcry over the lack of oversight and transparency.
This legislation is in line with international efforts to ban all robotic weaponry that can make lethal decisions intentionally (known as lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) or accidentally with no ability for human intervention, including efforts to adopt an international treaty. The NYPD’s exploration of utilizing military technology and weaponry in New York neighborhoods demands statutory oversight on formally banning certain controversial technology with weaponized capabilities.
A recent survey conducted by the market research company Ipsos and commissioned by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots shows widespread concern for allowing this technology, with 62% in opposition.