The New York Police Department used federal government cash to purchase two robotic dogs, known as Digidogs, for $750,000. The cash was acquired through the Equitable Sharing Program, which supplements the budgets of local police departments with money and property forfeited in the course of criminal investigations, Politico reports. Between fiscal years 2018 and 2021, the Department of Justice deposited nearly $6.5 billion in its Assets Forfeiture Fund. The multi-billion dollar initiative has helped law enforcement agencies pay overtime and arm themselves with equipment and sophisticated weaponry. Police officials say the dogs will be ideal for hostage situations or entering radioactive or chemically hazardous areas that would be too dangerous for a human.
Privacy advocates are worried. “I’m terrified about the idea that we’ll start seeing decades of work to collect massive databases about the public being paired with increasingly invasive AI models to try to determine who and who isn’t a threat,” said Albert Fox Cahn, head of a New York City-based watchdog group. While recognizing that technology can be a helpful tool to fight crime, privacy advocates worry about a lack of ethical guardrails for police departments using robots, facial recognition and increasingly broad local surveillance networks. Other technology seems to have biases baked into its foundation. Facial recognition, for example, has proved to be more susceptible to false identifications when the subject is Black.