Released: August 2020
TALON is a US-wide network of automatic license plate readers and smart surveillance cameras that provide local and national law enforcement authorities, and local homeowners' associations, with a searchable, round-the-clock view of vehicles in their neighbourhood.
Officially launched in August 2020 by little-known start-up Flock Safety, the network has quietly expanded significantly in recent years and is increasingly drawing the attention of rights researchers and NGOs concerned about its privacy implications, marketing claims, lack of transparency, and other issues.
Flock Safety describes TALON as 'the industry’s first ethically-designed local and national network of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs)'. The network 'allows law enforcement to opt-in to sharing their Flock Safety ALPRs with other law enforcement agencies in their state or agencies in over 700 cities nationwide, providing near real-time information sharing across jurisdictions.'
However, privacy and rights experts point out that TALON misidentifies vehicles and, given the ability of wealthier neighbourhoods to buy the system, may be biased towards coloured and low income drivers. They also say that data collected by TALON is easily shared and misused.
Marketing and sales
Similar to Amazon Ring, Flock works closely with local police forces to drum up publicity in order to pressurise local communities, homeowner associations and businesses to buy more ALPR cameras - a tactic that appears to have proved largely successful. Yet, according to The Intercept, many private communities and associations appear to have few, if any, privacy safeguards in place, which has led some communities to have them removed.
Some of Flock's marketing claims have come under scrutiny. In August 2021 Bloomberg CityLab noted Flock claimed its system was responsible for a 70% crime reduction across the cities it operates in. But Flock 'doesn't release information on its hit rate or offer a breakdown of how homeowners’ associations use the cameras', according to Bloomberg, and it is unclear what role the technology played in any reduction, or whether anyone was arrested and convicted.
Operator: New Lenox Police Department; Atherton Police Department; Memorial Villages Police Department; Dayton Police Department; Sacramento Police Department; Multiple
Developer: Flock Safety
Sector: Govt - police
Purpose: Strengthen law enforcement
Technology: Automated license plate recognition (ALPR)
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Bias/discrimination - race, income; Dual/multi-use; Privacy; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance; Marketing