On Sunday, a gunman opened fire in Canada’s largest city, killing an 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl and injuring 13 others. While gun violence is still rarer in Canada than in the U.S., Toronto has seen an uptick in shootings recently. Police data shows that the number of shootings has more than doubled in Toronto between 2014 and 2017 from 177 to 395. That may be what led the city council to vote in favor of bringing in ShotSpotter, an audio surveillance technology that helps police automatically detect gunshots.
ShotSpotter claims to detect the sound of gunshots and then use audio triangulation to alert police within 30 to 45 seconds. The system is widely used by police in the U.S. (including 24 square miles of New York City), but reports of its effectiveness have been uneven.
ShotSpotter’s reliability isn’t what alarms privacy advocates, though. When you’re surveilling audio, you’re going to capture more than gunshots. According to the ACLU, ShotSpotter has been used in several court cases when the devices captured gunshots as well as “relevant voices.” When asked about this by the ACLU, the company’s CEO wasn’t all that concerned, saying: “If you’re worried about NSA boogeymen, they’re not going to be using our sensors, they’ll be using your phone. It’s in your pocket and has a better microphone.”
So there you go. (Don’t worry, the company’s stock price is doing just fine.)