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Privacy Crime Government The Courts Your Rights Online

Audio Surveillance, Intended to Detect Gunshots, Can Pick Up Much More 215

Posted by timothy
from the he-ain't-heavy-but-he's-a-very-good-listener dept.
New submitter groovethefish writes "This NYT article highlights the use of electronic listening devices installed on utility poles, buildings, and other structures, then centrally monitored for gunshots. The company SureSpotter claims it helps reduce time wasted by police searching for the source of gunfire in their patrol areas, but the privacy implications are just hitting the courts. If they are monitoring 24/7 and also pickup conversations along with gunshots, can that be used against the people who are recorded?" Evidently, Yes: the linked article describes just such a case. Continues groovethefish: "The company line, from the article: 'James G. Beldock, a vice president at ShotSpotter, said that the system was not intended to record anything except gunshots and that cases like New Bedford's were extremely rare. "There are people who perceive that these sensors are triggered by conversations, but that is just patently not true," he said. "They don't turn on unless they hear a gunshot."'"
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Audio Surveillance, Intended to Detect Gunshots, Can Pick Up Much More

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  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @10:41AM (#40143137)

    QUOTE: "In at least one city, New Bedford, Mass., where sensors recorded a loud street argument that accompanied a fatal shooting last December, the system has raised questions about privacy and the reach of police surveillance, even in the service of reducing gun violence."

    The Supreme Court has ruled people have no expectation of privacy in a public setting or publicly-open facility (like a mall). Note that also includes cops who try to make you turn-off your videocamera or audio recorder. They don't have any right to privacy either, and can not force you to turn them off, or confiscate & erase the evidence.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @10:50AM (#40143327)

      QUOTE: "In at least one city, New Bedford, Mass., where sensors recorded a loud street argument that accompanied a fatal shooting last December, the system has raised questions about privacy and the reach of police surveillance, even in the service of reducing gun violence."

      The Supreme Court has ruled people have no expectation of privacy in a public setting or publicly-open facility (like a mall). Note that also includes cops who try to make you turn-off your videocamera or audio recorder. They don't have any right to privacy either, and can not force you to turn them off, or confiscate & erase the evidence.

      There are twelve states in which all parties must consent to being audio recorded, otherwise it's a felony, one of which is Massachusetts. Ten of those states have an 'expectation of privacy' clause which would make recording people in a park legal. The two which don't are Illinois and, you guessed it, Massachusetts.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @11:16AM (#40143725)

        >>>one of which is Massachusetts

        Yes and that law is now nullified by the First Circuit Court of the U.S. which declared "citizens have a first amendment right to record their public officials in the performance of their duties." - Then they freed the citizen who was being charged under wiretap laws for recording an law enforcement officer.

        In other words, cops may not force you to turn off your camera, per your 1st amendment "freedom of the press" right which allows not just recording conversation with pen-and-paper (like the old days) but also with audio or video.

        • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @12:11PM (#40144595) Journal

          In other words, cops may not force you to turn off your camera

          Except that they can still ask you to turn off your camera, and they can still arrest you if you don't. They just have to come up with some other charge(contempt of cop), or release you without charge after holding you long enough to miss the shot. And if you got it, oops, the sd card went missing somehow. Too bad about that. That's if your lucky and the officer didn't mistake your camera for a gun.

          Has any officer anywhere been disciplined in any way (other than paid vacation) for violating the legal rights of a photographer? Unless you can answer in the affirmative, the circuit court decision doesn't mean anything really.

          The protections we actually have against criminals in uniform are vanishingly slim.

          • When you live in a place where one man's car costs much more than another man's house you can expect to be treated like a medieval surf (unless you're the guy with the car)!

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by I_am_Jack (1116205)
              How was medieval surf different from renaissance surf or even baroque surf? Different tidal forces? Was it the ability to design the board art with the proper perspective? Or the emergence of a merchant class which would allow the mobility for former serfs to surf themselves? ;)
              • by Fjandr (66656)

                Well, there's a difference, but it's slight. Since the moon's orbital distance increases, the difference between a modern surf and a medieval surf is the medieval surf would have been a bit better. Well, except for the lack of decent surfboards, but let's not nitpick minor details like that. :)

          • Except that they can still ask you to turn off your camera, and they can still arrest you if you don't.

            Is there any behavior where this argument could not be invoked by an officier as justification for arrest?

            They just have to come up with some other charge(contempt of cop), or release you without charge after holding you long enough to miss the shot. And if you got it, oops, the sd card went missing somehow. Too bad about that. That's if your lucky and the officer didn't mistake your camera for a gun.

            Freedom isn't free it is something that must be constantly asserted. It is not supposed to be easy.

          • by mhajicek (1582795)
            App idea: stream your camera to a remote storage device.
            • Better yet, stream it directly to the internet!

              I can see scope for a website displaying live streams from camera phones etc. and allowing visitors to tag the "good" bits. That way by the time you're asked to turn off your phone, it's already too late for them to cover up whatever dodgy thing they were doing!

            • Photobucket

          • by Entropius (188861)

            There have always been big disparities in wealth, and that in itself doesn't indicate anything pathological about a society.

            • by nbauman (624611)

              Big disparities in wealth are unjust.

              They're also inefficient. More egalitarian societies have more efficient economic production.

              • by zoloto (586738)
                > Big disparities in wealth are unjust Only in the mind of the poor, or those who feel they "deserve". Quite frankly, no one deserves anything.
      • by Java Pimp (98454)

        I believe that applies when there IS an expectation of privacy. I most certainly can video tape in public places and unintentionally (or intentionally) record activities of bystanders. If not, no one would be able to have video of their kids on the beach or at an amusement park or video of any other kind of public activity.

        • by Fjandr (66656)

          Normally I'm so far onto the side of privacy where technology is concerned I'm about to fall off the edge of the board (in relation to what are legitimate uses of it by law enforcement to pursue investigations). However, after reading the article, and assuming the system cannot be triggered manually or by non-gunshot events (it apears the false positive rate is very low), there's no expectation of privacy and the exigent circumstances surrounding the legitimate belief any recording involves discharge of a f

    • by sjbe (173966) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @10:50AM (#40143339)

      They don't have any right to privacy either, and can not force you to turn them off, or confiscate & erase the evidence.

      They may not have any right to privacy but they certainly can, in real life, force you to turn them off, confiscate and erase the evidence. Doesn't mean it is legal for them to do so but they certainly are capable of doing it and probably will get away with it too. After all, once the evidence is deleted it becomes your word against theirs and they tend to hold the advantage there. Obviously cops should be held at least to the same standards as regular citizens (if not higher standard) but we know that it doesn't always work out the way it should in actual practice. The certainly aren't going to get thrown in jail and probably not even reprimanded and they know it.

      • A system where it gets sent it real time to the Internet would handle the confiscation of evidence issue.

        • A system where they are fired and sent to jail for 20 years as a federal crime would help a bit as well.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>force you to turn them off, confiscate and erase the evidence

        Yes they can FORCE you to do it. That's what government is best at: Use of force to suppress natural rights. BUT you can also prosecute the cops under the law for destruction of material evidence. He would be fined or demoted.

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          >>>force you to turn them off, confiscate and erase the evidence

          Yes they can FORCE you to do it. That's what government is best at: Use of force to suppress natural rights. BUT you can also prosecute the cops under the law for destruction of material evidence. He would be fined or demoted.

          I think you meant to say that he will receive 2 weeks on administrative leave with pay (what most of us call "vacation") while the situation is investigated, then he'll be cleared and returned to duty.

    • by TheSpoom (715771)

      The problem with police recordings are that the police have no responsibility to give the recording in full to the defense; they can limit what they introduce into evidence to just what would be beneficial to securing a conviction, and leave out anything that could help the accused.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>> the police have no responsibility to give the recording in full to the defense

        Yes they do. If it's later discovered they were withholding evidence, the defendent is automatically freed because he didn't get a fair trial. So the police have a responsibility to turn over everything (else they'd just be stupid).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @10:41AM (#40143149)

    "They don't turn on unless they hear a gunshot."

    So, how are they listening for a gunshot, and then recording the gunshot, after the gunshot was fired?! Is that not a blatant lie or am I being daft?

    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @10:44AM (#40143215)

      I think they mean the recording portion doesn't turn on unless the sensing portion detects a gunshot. A poorly worded sentence, to be sure. It's like your TV - even when your TV is "off", the small component that listens for your remote is still on.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How can you verify a sound was a gunshot THEN record it?

        • by Lucky75 (1265142)
          You can do something where you continuously record and then throw away the recording after a few seconds if nothing was triggered. A lot of busses do that with video recordings so that they can have footage of a crash if it occurs.
      • by Bigby (659157)

        It still would need to record at least a buffer size big enough to go from the start of the gunshot to the time it takes to determine if it is a gunshot or not. It just doesn't save the recording unless it thinks it hears a gunshot.

        I wonder if someone is going to go up to one and confess to their killings while shooting a gun continuously in the air.

      • think they mean the recording portion doesn't turn on unless the sensing portion detects a gunshot. A poorly worded sentence, to be sure. It's like your TV - even when your TV is "off", the small component that listens for your remote is still on.

        TFA talks about an argument recorded by this system, associated with a shooting.

        Unless the argument happened AFTER the shooting, it's unlikely they only start recording as a result of a shooting.

        And it the argument DID happen after the shooting, I really can't se

        • by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @11:10AM (#40143625)

          I posted in more detail elsewhere in this article, but I installed a security camera system that could store some footage from before motion tripped the camera. Basically, once motion was in the frame (or a specific part of the frame), it writes everything from the buffer preceding the motion detection to storage and then appends the live video until X seconds/minutes after the motion stops. Unless there's a trigger, the preceding footage never gets written to storage. Technically, the buffer is a type of storage but it's very small, often overwritten, and only used if a trigger event is detected shortly thereafter.

          • Alright, that would work.

            So, why do I have a hard time believing that the police are using a system that just throws data away?

          • The point is, that if they wanted to, altering the buffer circuit to continuously record is trivial. Its a software change, and so in that sense, they ARE recording at all times, because the option to exists.
            • To make a bad analogy, that's like saying that every time a cop draws a gun, it's the same as shooting someone just because the option exists and is trivial to implement. In reality, there's still a big difference between "can" and "does"

              • And in the case im talking about, all it takes is a proverbial one bit switch to go from limited record to always on, so one should assume they are ALWAYS on.
          • by Solandri (704621)
            Interestingly, this is also how your eyes work. If you briefly flash a bunch of words in front of people, and ask them to read back ones in certain areas, they can. If you want a few seconds before asking, they can't. Your eye dumps its visual data into a short-term memory buffer which fades after a few seconds. Any information not transferred from that buffer to long-term memory is lost.
          • by MichaelJ (140077)
            Linksys WVC54GA and WVC80N cameras will do this.
      • I think they mean the recording portion doesn't turn on unless the sensing portion detects a gunshot. A poorly worded sentence, to be sure. It's like your TV - even when your TV is "off", the small component that listens for your remote is still on.

        I think the 'saving' of the always-on recording doesn't get saved unless it 'hears' the sound it's supposed to. After all, how the heck is it supposed to record something after it happened? All this makes me wonder if more of these audio devices (and CCTV) will be destroyed/hunted by local criminals; if so, will that spur a new market for camouflaged devices?

    • by Marble68 (746305)

      Maybe, they don't record but use something like DSP analysis to trigger an event when an audio signature event is detected? Considering the audio is being "captured" and "analyzed" it does raise the question; is this equivalent to "recording?"

      But why not have a buffer, I wonder? Say, 5 minutes worth? Then, when a gunshot is detected that 5 minutes of audio can be saved along with subsequent audio providing context around the shot. If no gunshot (or automobile backfire?) is detected, the start of the 5 minut

      • by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @11:02AM (#40143499)

        I implemented several IP cameras for a previous employer. They had a nifty little "record on motion" feature in which it wouldn't record (could still be monitored live) to the NAS unless there was motion detected. One of the big selling points around this feature was that it could actually record up to 30 seconds BEFORE the motion that triggered it so you could be sure you weren't missing anything before the camera was triggered. I believe it did it by keeping a couple minutes of video in a buffer on the camera. If an event triggered it, that buffer would be written to the NAS first and then it would continue appending the live video to the storage until the motion stopped plus X minutes. This system likely works in a similar fashion - it keeps a buffer that's continually overwritten until an event (IE: gunshot) triggers it to be saved to permanent media.

        • To continue my analogy above, the camera system could be set to only look for motion in certain parts of the frame. One of the cameras monitored the warehouse, so we could tell it to only trigger recording if there was motion at the warehouse door and to not trigger it if there was motion elsewhere in the frame. The gunshot would be the equivalent of the door and conversations would be the rest of the frame - it passes through the buffer but is never added to the storage medium unless it's occurring at the

        • It is done on the DVR itself, not the cameras in our case. It continually records to memory, in an overwriting fashion, until motion is triggered. Then the data in memory is committed to disk, as well as what happens after that until the event ends (you set how long after it stops detecting motion that it keeps recording).

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Maybe, they don't record but use something like DSP analysis to trigger an event when an audio signature event is detected? Considering the audio is being "captured" and "analyzed" it does raise the question; is this equivalent to "recording?"

        But why not have a buffer, I wonder? Say, 5 minutes worth? Then, when a gunshot is detected that 5 minutes of audio can be saved along with subsequent audio providing context around the shot. If no gunshot (or automobile backfire?) is detected, the start of the 5 minut

    • by vlm (69642)

      I am tangentially aware of a military system that does the same thing and the way its engineered is you record to a time stamped ring buffer constantly. Meanwhile you analyze your ring buffer for a shot signature. IF you find a shot signature, then you perform a somewhat more detailed analysis to figure out the exact timestamp of firing (more or less). Then you uplink a really short data burst to central, something like "I'm sensor 23542542 and at 10:41:02.239582 I detected a shot and the local airtemp

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        I am tangentially aware of a military system that does the same thing and the way its engineered is you record to a time stamped ring buffer constantly. Meanwhile you analyze your ring buffer for a shot signature. IF you find a shot signature, then you perform a somewhat more detailed analysis to figure out the exact timestamp of firing (more or less). Then you uplink a really short data burst to central, something like "I'm sensor 23542542 and at 10:41:02.239582 I detected a shot and the local airtemp 73F and local air pressure is 1.0001 bar". Presumably central has a database of sensor locations, but if not a GPS RX on the sensor to generate timestamps works pretty well to report your presumably static location (although the .mil version I've heard about mounts on a movable APC).

        Well anyway central optimistically gets about 10 reports, then its mega-triangulation time to pinpoint a location and estimated accuracy of fix.

        Now if you dump the ring buffer to disk or something for possible later analysis, and the ring buffer is a minute or two (or an hour?) long, that's how you inadvertently collect street conversations.

        This seems the only reasonable way to do this... any other way?

        Now if you dump the ring buffer to disk or something for possible later analysis, and the ring buffer is a minute or two (or an hour?) long, that's how you inadvertently collect street conversations.

        This seems the only reasonable way to do this... any other way?

        Sure, there's other ways that could be considered "reasonable". Since these are permanently mounted recorders, there's no reason why they have to record audio locally and discard old recordings. There's no reason why they can't have enough data bandwidth to let them stream the audio to central audio recorders that keep audio indefinitely (purportedly for further analysis or for "quality control" purposes). Likewise, storage is so cheap that even if data was stored locally and eventually overwritten, they co

      • The military system is called Boomerang [blogspot.ca]. It uses a cluster of microphones on a pole on a vehicle. The onboard systems can triangulate the shot directly, using the timing differences in the arrival of the gunshot.
    • How about the police figure out why so many people are getting shot? Police show up after the fact and if drugs are involved the case goes to the bottom of the pile. Maybe someone could figure out why society has these issues in the first place? And don't tell me guns are the cause either because I seem to recall the UK having problems with gangs of knife wielding youths.

    • by droopus (33472) *

      Ok, obviously none of you guys are marksmen, or are forgetting ear protection tech. Let me give you an example which should clarify this and give further clarity to the "always recording" argument.

      Guns are LOUD...a lot louder than they seem on tv...typically 140 - 190db. When there is a gunfight in a room and people have a conversation afterwards on tv, I chuckle. Unless they are wearing hearing protection (colloquially: "ears") all they would hear after the gunfight would be ringing. It is mandatory on mos

      • by JTsyo (1338447)
        If that's true, how do soldiers hear orders during a gunfight or right afterwards?
        • Hand guns are typically much louder than long guns. Additionally a solider on a battle field is typically outside where you won't get the echo that you do at an indoor gun range. Shooting a long gun in the woods or in a field while hunting is much quieter than shooting them at an outdoor range (roof overhead and concrete floor), which is still quieter than shooting at an indoor range. Also my uncle's handgun (.40 S&W) is much louder when we shoot cans outdoors than any of the rifles we have (Remington 7
  • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @10:47AM (#40143263)

    In my state of Wisconsin, it is against the law to record a conversation between two parties without the express knowledge of one of the parties. This instance would most likely be inadmissible in any court case. I believe this is the recording law in many states as well, but I only have experience dealing with it here.

    • A similar argument has been used for red light cameras - quick way around it is to put announcements in the paper/radio/etc and put signs up. That way they can argue that they did their due diligence in informing the public, so it should be general public knowledge that your conversation could be recorded. Not sure how well it would stand up in court, but it'd be enough to at least give a fight.

  • Sound familiar? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @10:54AM (#40143379)

    The TSA scanners didn't store images until we found out they stored images. Then we were told they only stored images for testing until we found out they stored images all the time. Then we found out the images were easily accessible to anyone after being reassured that there were ample security measures to prevent any yahoo from distributing humiliating or enticing images of some people.

  • Given a choice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @11:00AM (#40143457)
    Given a choice between outlawing guns and having a sensitive listening device on every street corner that can listen in on conversations like Big Brother, I'd prefer to outlaw guns.
    • Given a choice between outlawing guns and having a sensitive listening device on every street corner that can listen in on conversations like Big Brother, I'd prefer to outlaw guns.

      Unfortunately or not, for you, the U.S. constitution has no explicit right to privacy like you desire, yet it has a right to gun ownership, to some arguable degree.

      • Do you know WHY we have the right to bear arms? Its supposed to be so the Government FEARS us. That is its EXPRESS purpose.
        • by Asic Eng (193332)
          The purpose being expressed was "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state". It doesn't really matter though - it's a right listed in the US constitution, so you have the right to keep and bear arms.
        • Um... no. It's express purpose is for the defense of the country. "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Maintaining a standing army was prohibitively expensive, so if the country was attacked, people were expected to take up arms, form into a militia, and fight the invaders. To that end, they had a right to bear arms.

          Considering that many of the authors of the constitution were lawyers, it is a
    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      >>>I'd prefer to outlaw guns.

      But when some future Julius Caesar takes-over as president, and starts writing his own laws (thus making the House/Senate impotent like the real Caesar did), how are we supposed to overthrow those dictator if we don't have guns?

      • by Minwee (522556)

        But when some future Julius Caesar takes-over as president, and starts writing his own laws (thus making the House/Senate impotent like the real Caesar did), how are we supposed to overthrow those dictator if we don't have guns?

        Count the guns in this picture [the-romans.co.uk].

        Take all the time you need.

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          Technically the Constitution says "right to bear arms" so that would include swords and knives. Whatever it takes to remove the dictator from power. If that means having all 200 million adult Americans storm the capitol and stab President-Dictator Julius to death, so be it. (Though I'd rather we have semi-automatics.)

          • If it gets that bad I would prefer high powered bold action rifles. If I have to shoot someone I don't want to be any where near them as they could return fire. I think there are far too many people who want there to be open armed revolt in the US as they want to live out some Mad Max Road Warrior style fantasy. I hear these people in the woods when deer hunting, they empty their firearm when trying to hit the animal.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CanHasDIY (1672858)

      Given a choice between outlawing guns and having a sensitive listening device on every street corner that can listen in on conversations like Big Brother, I'd prefer to outlaw guns.

      Outlawing guns will only serve to guarantee that there will be listening devices on every corner - and in your house, workplace, transportation, and anywhere else BB wants to watch you.

      Do you not realize why we have a guaranteed right (and some will go so far to say, duty) to keep and bear arms in this country? Hint: it has nothing to do with gathering food.

    • by sjames (1099)

      It's a false choice. There is no reason we can't allow guns and not allow the listening devices. We managed for over 200 years without them.

      Of course, they COULD restrict the resolution of the system so that it can detect gunshots but cannot make out human speech. OR they could just note a detected gunshot and record nothing.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Why does it have to be a choice of what rights you give up? Just to make law enforcement easier? To hell with THAT!

  • How do they hear a gunshot if they're not already on? Maybe he was talking about the recording part of the sensor?
  • by jesseck (942036) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @11:09AM (#40143617)
    When I was there in 2005, some humvees had these. They didn't work well, and picked up a lot of false positives. When I returned a second time in 2006 / 2007, I don't recall seeing a single ShotSpotter. But the ShotSpotters made the guardshack's day when they could come back from dropping Marines at post and say "We were shot at! The ShotSpotter beeped, said it came from the right!"
  • The recent ruling that banned cops placing GPS trackers on suspects without a warrant was criticized by some of the justices themselves for not going far enough to clear up privacy issues in public. This is just another example of how those justices are being proven right, and at some point, the limits of what forms of warrantless, electronic surveillance (by private or public entities) can be used as evidence in court will need to be clarified once and for all. (I hope this happens sooner rather than later

  • Ok, I had to read it twice but yes... the lawyer for one of the defendants in the New Bedford case is Mr. Camera.

  • In Vancouver there are microphones on all stations and new trains on Skytrain (the above-ground subway system) that are being actively monitored by Translink Police. You can listen to the Translink radio communications on a number of free applications and hear them spot people sneaking alcohol on the train or talking about vandalizing ad posters for the cops. I think you may have to invent your own language these days, to even maintain an illusion of privacy anymore.
  • "A ______ is to a public microphone as a 1W laser from http://www.wickedlasers.com/ [wickedlasers.com] is to a traffic camera."

    -- Terry

  • I can't believe I had to invoke the 2nd, all the way down here at the bottom of the comments. Shameful, /. , just shameful.

    But it possibly stands to reason that the deployment of such surveillance devices domestically is a clear violation of the 2nd Amendment, if not also the 4th Amendment [wikipedia.org] .

    • by Vrtigo1 (1303147)
      In just about every municipality in the USA, yes. It is illegal to discharge a firearm with a few exceptions, i.e. acting in self defense, at a designated shooting range, etc. Otherwise, yes, discharging a firearm is quite illegal and definitely something I would want law enforcement to be notified of. Would you really feel safe in a community where folks could just randomly go outside and start shooting stuff?
    • by JTsyo (1338447)
      really, there's confusion on if discharging a weapon in city streets is a crime? This doesn't stop people from owning guns, just helps police respond faster to the scene of a crime (hint: the answer your question is that it is a crime). Your post is just FUD.

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