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Houston OKs $178K AI cameras for HPD, but privacy and misidentification concerns raised

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Houston City Council voted Wednesday to expand the Houston Police Department’s use of artificial intelligence (AI) in video surveillance.

The one-year agreement, worth nearly $178,000, is with Airship AI Holdings, Inc. The company will install 64 cameras throughout the city and provide more server space. How and where they will be placed is yet to be determined.

HPD requested and recommended the deal, which has raised some concerns.

“I’m all for less crime, but privacy is very important and should be maintained,” John Zandi said when ABC13 asked about the new cameras.

Texas Southern University professor and former city council member Carroll Robinson predicts problems.

“Some innocent person, misidentified, not by a real-life person but by a camera, ends up in the criminal justice system, incarcerated at the county jail,” he said.

Robinson and his colleague, Dr. Michael O. Adams, have called for state legislation to protect against racial discrimination using AI.

Only Airship AI Holdings can provide tech support.

“So, no one can look at it and examine it to make sure what they say it’s doing is what it’s actually doing?” Robinson asked.

It’s an ongoing argument throughout the country. How well does facial recognition work? Who will be running the cameras?

Some people see the benefit in a city with a police department that struggles with hiring and faces consistently high crime.

“If it could recognize people as is, it could cut down on the time they have to spend identifying people or looking for people, so I think it would be a good thing overall,” Ashton Argo said in support.