As it was with the Segway, so it goes with Google Glass: An aesthetically dorky tech innovation, hailed as the Next Big Thing with purported life-changing properties, ending up primarily used by cops.
Venturebeat reported this week that the NYPD has bought a few pairs of Google Glass and is beta-testing the product primarily for patrol purposes. It's an unsurprising fusion of surveillance technology and policing with some air of inevitability about it.
There is some promise that the technology could helpfully serve to monitor patrol cop behavior: Discriminatory stop-and-frisks could be caught in real time, for example. The reason Google Glass, or any technology that serves as equal part tracking device, piques civil liberties concerns is that surveillance alters the behavior of the surveilled and thus breeds conformity. In the case of New York cops, however, a change of behavior has long been the order of the day.
While Google has not teamed with the NYPD (the police department applied to the open Glass beta-testing program), New York police are no strangers to Silicon Valley deals. Microsoft and the NYPD installed the Domain Awareness System (Orwellian in content as it is in name) -- a surveillance network that centralized data on the public from cameras, sensors and other surveillance tools in Manhattan.
The police's Google Glass experiment is just that: only a few pairs are in NYPD hands and no system for their use in quotidian policing is currently on the table. However, the idea of beat cops with added surveillance capabilities on their faces rings repressive. As Venturebeat reported, "Even without facial recognition, Google Glass could help match suspects’ names and faces to information contained in various databases that police and federal law enforcement agencies use, such as those from the National Crime Information Center." As such, cops-with-Glass would feed into the existing control technologies enacted by records and database systems that label and enumerate "the criminal," with ruinous consequences for thousands of individuals, particularly New York's young black and brown men.
Police departments taking up Google Glass would mean serious revenue for the tech leviathan, and another step in its steady march toward a state of totalized surveillance.