Confronting Automated Law Enforcement

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Ryan Calo, A. Michael Froomkin, & Ian Kerr




Edward Elgar Pub. Ltd.




The time has come for a cohesive approach to automated law enforcement. The ubiquity of sensors, advances in computerized analysis and robotics, and widespread adoption of networked technologies have paved the way for the combination of sensor systems with law-enforcement algorithms and punishment feedback loops. While in the past, law enforcement was manpower intensive and moderated by the discretion of the police officer on the beat, automated systems scale efficiently, allow meticulous enforcement of the law, provide rapid dispatch of punishment and offer financial incentives to law-enforcement agencies, governments, and purveyors of these systems. Unfortunately, laws were not created with such broad attempts at enforcement in mind and the future portends significant harms to society where many types of violations, particularly minor infractions, can be enforced with unprecedented rigor. This chapter provides a framework for analysis of automated law-enforcement systems that includes a conceptualization of automated law enforcement as the process of automating some or all aspects of surveillance, analysis, and enforcement in an iterative feedback loop. We demonstrate how intended and unintended consequences can result from the automation of any stage in this process and provide a list of issues that must be considered in any automated law enforcement scheme. Those deploying automated law-enforcement schemes should be extremely cautious to ensure that the necessary calculus has been performed and adequate safeguards have been incorporated to minimize the potential for public harm while preserving the benefits of automation.

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