Introducing Security Robots into the Federal Government

March 8, 2022

The federal government is an excellent environment in which to introduce new technology.  In some cases, the government creates technology.  Think of the key contributions made by the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency in the creation of the internet, originally intended to help scientists collaborate across large distances.  Or the original Global Positioning System technology developed by the military.  Both are now ubiquitous across the globe used by billions of people.

Sometimes new technologies are introduced to the government by the private sector.  After the events of 9/11, the government introduced the electronic tracking of biometrics into the immigration entry process, and the US is now well on its way to using biometrics to record the exit of foreign nationals.  Biometrics are now used by many countries for passport control and the United Nations recently approved Security Resolution 2396 which states, in part, that Member States shall implement systems to collect biometrics to strengthen their border controls.  The government has also incorporated drones into mission sets across federal agencies.

With the advent of robotics and artificial intelligence, now is the optimum time to introduce security robots to the federal government.  The federal government needs to take on the role of growing, shaping, and integrating robotics to enhance the security of the United States.  By assuming this leadership role, the U.S. could well influence the rest of the world in the use of security robotics in the workplace.

The federal government has the requisite legal infrastructure (Congressional authority), and regulatory and policy-making processes in place to ensure these new technologies are implemented with proper oversight and accountability.  The federal government also has some of the strongest privacy advocates, and these professionals will be vital to ensuring the proper implementation of security robots in public spaces.  In some cases, Congress may even need to provide additional authorities and the Executive Branch may need to publish new policies.

When you speak with those who design and build security robots, they will tell you that the robot’s function is optimal for performing the routine, sometimes “boring” job of security guards, like walking through a sometimes-empty building or through a parking lot at night.  They explain that robots can free up the security guards to focus on interactions with people.  And let’s be clear, boring jobs can also be very dangerous.  Expecting the same thing over and over again leads to complacency and diminishing powers of observation.  When a human security guard is out on patrol in the dark of night – usually patrolling alone – the guard can be targeted by criminals that recognize the care-free body language, attacking in locations where assistance may not be readily available. It is in these situations that many security guards suffer injury or even death.  Robots, on the other hand, can observe, record every action and alert, and provide situational awareness to first responders. If they get banged up along the way, well, robots can be replaced.

In this series of Blogs, we will discuss privacy issues surrounding security robots and dispel a few myths often associated with such technologies, including Personally Identifiable Information (PII) concerns, what data is and is not collected or stored, and how the data collected is used.  We will look at federal agencies whose missions make them ideal candidates for integrating security robots into their security strategy and have the most obvious use cases and need for security robots, such as those charged with protecting the security and safety of federal buildings, the employees who work there, and the general public who visit those buildings.  We will then discuss agencies whose missions include national defense, border control, disaster recovery, securing courts and prisons, Veteran’s hospitals, and even regulatory agencies that oversee our critical infrastructure like chemical plants, dams, and nuclear power plants.  Finally, we will examine how security robots should be integrated, the potential challenges of doing so, and their efficacy once established as part of a robust security program.

The technology in today’s security robots is not entirely new and is currently being used by the private sector to fight crime and enhance security and safety in airports, corporate buildings and campuses, hospitals, parks, neighborhoods, shopping malls, parking structures and casinos – to name a few since 2015.  The private sector is turning to this technology for a number of reasons as highlighted below. It’s now time for the federal government to start leveraging it too.

Security Robots can.…

  • Provide federal agencies a cost-effective tool to augment contract security staff to provide more expanded and less expensive security coverage.
  • Provide high quality, 360-degree 4K video 24/7/365 as they patrol the interior and exterior of federal buildings and parking structures.
  • Provide pre-recorded instructions to the people waiting in line to enter federal buildings as to what items are not permitted in the buildings.
  • Recognize and alert security officials about individuals banned from federal buildings based on prior documented illegal activity.
  • Identify and alert security officials to suspicious vehicles based on license plate recognition.
  • Gather video feeds from security robots installed at federal facilities and display them in real time in agency Command Centers and on the desktops of federal security officials.

What needs to be done?

Just like the federal government did with biometrics and drone technology, a national dialogue with security robotics companies, Congress, federal agencies, privacy advocates and cybersecurity professionals needs to occur, to ensure the concerns of these bodies are being addressed as this new technology is deployed across the federal community.  This Security Robot Blog series is intended to add a voice to that national dialogue.

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