It's Too Easy to Legislate Away Safety

Technology saves lives. It exponentially expands human capabilities and extends beyond any one individual to enhance medical interventions, improve law enforcement techniques and protect life. Unfortunately, as clearly as we expertly navigate the use of new technology, we also struggle to appropriately manage the legislative concerns instigated by technological developments.

The recently introduced House Bill 498 serves as an example of how quickly legislation can limit life-saving technology. The Michigan bill looks to restrict the use of license plate recognition (LPR) data by constraining how law enforcement agencies may use LPR information in addition to establishing guidelines for record purges. The legislation may result in severely impaired ongoing investigations and lengthen the time it takes to catch criminals -- a key example of the inability to effectively balance the benefits of technology and privacy concerns.

In the case of LPR technology, whereby automatic cameras on police vehicles and various transportation routes collect the license plate numbers of passing cars, law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on such data to isolate the locations of suspects, save victims and retrieve personal property. The data, which are already protected by existing federal privacy legislation, poses little threat to the confidentiality of the average citizen while still providing one of the greatest enhancements to criminal investigation in recent decades.

LPR does not stand alone as the only innovative life-saving technology vulnerable to over reactive legislation. In Palo Alto, for example, the city expects to install 52 automated external defibrillators (AED) for use by first responders to save cardiac arrest patients before emergency response technicians may arrive to the scene. In New York City, a situational awareness platform, called Domain Awareness System, provides real-time crime and counterterrorism data by integrating the city's main data sources. Technological history proves that what is new is often misunderstood. One misstep in the application of AED technology or questions raised about anonymous data analyzed through the Domain Awareness System, and legislators will assuredly apply limitations which can cause these technologies to lose their purpose altogether.

Ultimately, legislative understanding of technology must catch up with the pace of advancement. Instead of impairing the ability of the technology to save lives or limit protection in the name of privacy, legislators and private citizens must carefully consider each new technology against the true risks they may or may not pose. The ideal model for pairing legislation and technology in our digital age requires law makers to at least attempt to apply effective and long-standing legislation to new technology, as well as to build on the strengths of each advancement with carefully planned legislation rather than responding to innovation with fear-based regulations.

For more information on LPR technology and its life-saving results, see our last blog post.