Security Robots in the Federal Government – Addressing Privacy Issues

April 18, 2022

One of the most important steps we need to take before robots are deployed in Federal workplaces is to address privacy concerns. The use of robots can be quite polarizing. For some, they bring tremendous excitement and hope for an improved future. For others, they conjure up an uncertain fear. These fears, we would argue, are mostly unfounded and almost entirely due to how robots have been portrayed in science fiction novels or Hollywood films. The fact is, when many of these novels and films were made, robots did not exist. Now that robots are becoming an increased presence in our lives, we can evaluate their use in the real world, what they can do and what they are not capable of doing. Today we can see, touch, and even talk to robots, so we need to have a healthy dialogue with the public about real robots being used to solve real problems… not science fiction robots. The five core privacy principles: Notice/Awareness, Choice/Consent, Access/Participation, Integrity/Security, and Enforcement/Redress will be addressed before robots are deployed in federal workplaces. Engaging the public in an open and transparent manner will allow us to accurately depict the lifesaving, crime-fighting and security-enhancing capabilities of today’s Security Robots.

As we stated in our first blog, the federal government is an excellent environment to explore new technologies that will become a part of our daily lives. The federal government is replete with processes, procedures, and regulations that help shape new technologies. That said, with respect to the specific use of robots in the federal workplace to augment existing security personnel, it is a point of fact that today’s Security Robots use many of the technologies already in use in public spaces. Closed circuit television, or CCTV, is a technology that has been around for decades. CCTV is already used in federal buildings and Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA) have already been conducted and published for their use. These cameras are used to both deter and detect crime, and video footage has been used in courts of law to convict many criminals. The video capabilities of robots are both fixed and mobile. License plate readers are already used by several law enforcement components of the federal government and so, too, is facial recognition. Again, capabilities that today’s security robots can do. So, the privacy experts in the Departments of

Homeland Security, Justice and others will need to determine whether the video provided by robots is covered by existing PIAs or if those PIAs needed to be amended. Other features of the Security Robots such as listening, two-way communication, and signal detection, to name a few, may need new PIAs. Let us be guided then by the existing structures in the federal government to ensure robots meet the standards for privacy.

As important as the formal structures are, it is equally important to engage the public and have a dialogue about Security Robots. Many of us grew up being introduced to robots through novels written by Isaac Asimov and myriad other authors. Or through movies such as “Terminator,” “West World,” and “I Robot” to name three movies with a more negative depiction of robots. But there was also the robot on “Lost in Space,” and of course R2D2 and C-3PO in “Star Wars,” much more benign, friendly and lovable robots. Whichever way many learned of robots, they are generally feared to be part of some dystopian world or perhaps are going to take our jobs away from us. And in some cases, like the automotive assembly line, let’s be honest, they have. And at the same time, other higher paying jobs were created to program, service and maintain them. But at the end of the day, all robots are made by humans and should serve humans. Robots should enhance the human experience and we believe the Security Robots of today do just that. Robots can relieve us of the mundane, repetitive, and yes, boring tasks. And many robots can do these tasks without a break, without workers comp, without getting sick, and without wearing masks. Robots increase production and reduce risk because of these traits. They can record any incident and capture that incident for review by law enforcement and in a court of law to better guarantee conviction of criminals. So, Security Robots need to be viewed by the public as an enhancement and a way to augment what we already do. There are too many criminals and criminal acts to be prevented by the number of law enforcement personnel the United States employs today. Law enforcement and security professionals are in critical need of the assistance that robots can provide. The privacy concerns are legitimate and must and will be addressed. But we cannot ignore the technological progress that has brought us real and very useful robots that, unlike movies, can improve our lives. Security Robots can protect all of us and save lives.

What needs to be done?

Just like the federal government did with biometrics and drone technology, a national dialogue with Security Robot 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. And for those who would like to learn more or begin such a dialog directly, RIDGE-LANE Limited Partners invites you to join our free webinar on April 21, 2022, at 11:00am, ET, focused on federal use cases and privacy issues related to deploying Security Robots into the federal government. Industry leaders in Security Robot development, former federal senior executives, and local government leaders, will discuss the technology already in use across the United States, state and federal use cases, and potential privacy issues and how they are being addressed.

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