Life Inside a Skinner Box: Confronting our Future of Automated Law Enforcement

Presented at DEF CON 20 (2012), July 27, 2012, 4 p.m. (50 minutes)

From smart pajamas that monitor our sleep patterns to mandatory black boxes in cars to smart trash carts that divulge recycling violations in Cleveland, virtually every aspect of our lives is becoming instrumented and increasingly connected to law enforcement, government, and private entities. At the same time, these entities are incentivized to further collect, process, and punish in the name of financial advantage, public safety, or security. The trend of automated law enforcement is inescapable and touches every citizen. This talk will explore the implications of automated law enforcement, study the incentives at play, survey recent advances in sensing and surveillance technology, and will seek to answer the following questions and more. Were laws written with the idea of universal and perfect enforcement in mind? What are the implications of living in a society where every transgression might be detected and punished? What happens to the discretion of the officer on the beat, and the larger system of law, when we take the human out of the loop? Where does a security savvy, privacy conscious, and law abiding society end and a police state begin? You'll leave this talk with an awareness of the problem of automated law enforcement, challenges we face in ensuring such systems are properly constrained, ideas for your personal research agenda, and tools to help improve the prospects of our collective future.


  • Woody Hartzog - Ass't Professor, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University
    Woodrow Hartzog is an Assistant Professor at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University and an Affiliate Scholar at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. His research focuses on privacy, human-computer interaction, online communication, and electronic agreements. He holds a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an LL.M. in intellectual property from the George Washington University Law School, and a J.D. from Samford University. He previously worked as an attorney in private practice and as a trademark attorney for the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He also served as a clerk for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
  • Lisa Shay - Ass't Professor, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, West Point
    Lisa Shay is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the US Military Academy at West Point. She is a Marshall Scholar with an M.Sc. from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, both in Electrical Engineering. She is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Her research interests include sensor systems and their implications on individual and societal privacy and freedom.
  • Greg Conti - Director, Cyber Research Center, West Point
    Greg Conti is Director of West Point's Cyber Research Center. He is the author of Security Data Visualization (No Starch Press) and Googling Security (Addison-Wesley) as well as over 40 articles and papers covering online privacy, usable security, security data visualization, and cyber warfare. His work can be found at and


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