ACLU Asks for Regulation on Robotic Police “Dogs”

The Massachusetts ACLU wants to know how law enforcement is using robotics in policing.

Boston Dynamics

The American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts has filed a public records request asking to explain the use of robotic “dogs” by the Massachusetts State Police. 

In April, Boston Dynamics showed off their latest creation, the Spot robot. Months later, MA state police released a training video showing their use of the robot — which has now raised questions about what exactly they were using the new technology for and how it will be regulated. 

The four-legged Spot robot can walk, climb stairs, and open doors, and it comes with an attached camera and ability to customize its functions. 

According to public records obtained by ACLU Massachusetts, the Spot robots were leased to the state police from August to November 2019. The MA state police said the robots were being used to work in potential scenarios that would otherwise be dangerous for officers, and even aided in two incidents, but they never confirmed what those incidents were. 

ACLU Massachusetts told TechCrunch, “All too often, the deployment of these technologies happens faster than our social, political, or legal systems react. We urgently need more transparency from government agencies, who should be upfront with the public about their plans to test and deploy new technologies.”

In the letter to MA state police, the ACLU said they want to make sure the robots are not impeding established civil rights. They also are questioning if the robots can carry weapons.  

The ACLU letter also said the request “includes but is not limited to the [Massachusetts State Police] relationship with the following companies: Ghost Robotics, iRobot, Endeavor, and Boston Dynamics.”

Michael Perry, Boston Dynamics’ vice president for business development, said they want the Spot robot to be of use for officers in dangerous situations like a chemical spill, a suspected bomb, or a hostage situation. Perry went on to say that they don’t want people to weaponize their invention and that their lease agreements have a clause that says the robot is not to be used to “physically harm or intimidate people.”