In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the use of surveillance technology by American law enforcement. Drones, in particular, have become a common sight, with about a quarter of police departments now utilizing them according to a survey by researchers at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Surprisingly, some of these drones are being supplied by Silicon Valley firms such as Skydio and BRINC. This may seem odd given the libertarian values often associated with the tech industry, but as the industry seeks new avenues for growth, selling to the state is becoming more popular.
Government contracts are becoming increasingly important for tech companies, with firms like Alphabet, Amazon, Oracle, and Microsoft winning a $9 billion cloud-computing contract from the Pentagon. In addition to drones, other surveillance technologies are also being upgraded. Startups are developing autonomous solar-powered aircraft for persistent surveillance, while satellite imagery has become more accessible and commoditized due to the reduction in the cost of sending objects into space.
Tech companies are also selling tools to help law enforcement make better use of the abundance of images and information available to them. Ambient.AI has developed technology that automatically monitors cameras for suspicious activity, while Palantir provides data-mining tools to law enforcement agencies. Facial recognition software is also being widely used, with companies like Clearview AI playing a major role.
Selling surveillance technology to the government is not without its challenges. For newcomers, building relationships with police departments can be difficult, but once established, these relationships tend to be long-lasting. The bigger firms in the industry, such as Motorola Solutions and Axon, are also active in acquiring startups and developing their own surveillance technologies.
While the application of surveillance technology raises privacy concerns, it is likely to remain lucrative. Governments are not the only customers for these technologies, as they are also used by businesses for various purposes. The trend towards increased surveillance, whether by the government or private entities, shows no signs of slowing down.