The New York Police Department (NYPD) has reportedly spent over $8 million on products from tech company Voyager Labs, which claims to use artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor online behavior and predict future crimes. The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a nonprofit organization focused on combating mass surveillance and protecting privacy, has released redacted versions of NYPD contracts with Voyager Labs, revealing the substantial investment made by the department in 2018.
Voyager Labs, known for its “AI-based investigation solutions,” offers products to various industries, including law enforcement, the US public sector, and corporate security. While law enforcement’s use of social media analytics is not new, Voyager Labs claims that its products go beyond surveillance. According to an investigation by the Brennan Center for Justice, the company asserts that its products can predict future crimes and assign risk scores to social media users based on their ties to or affinity for Islamic fundamentalism or extremism.
The NYPD spokesperson clarified that while the department uses Voyager Labs’ software to monitor suspects involved in crimes such as gun violence, terrorism, and human trafficking, it does not currently utilize the predictive tools offered by the company. The spokesperson emphasized that these technologies are employed to aid active investigations and not for predicting future criminality.
Voyager Labs has faced legal challenges, including a lawsuit filed by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging that Voyager Labs created thousands of fake accounts to scrape data from more than 600,000 users. Voyager Labs has filed to dismiss the lawsuit.
The use of Voyager Labs’ products by the NYPD has raised concerns among privacy advocates, with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project describing these products as “invasive” and “alarming.” However, the NYPD maintains that the software is used within the boundaries of ongoing investigations.