Sarah A. Seo is a law professor at Iowa Law School and author of Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom (2019). (October 2019)


What Cars Can Teach Us About New Policing Technologies

A traffic stop in St. Louis, Missouri, July 25, 2017

The mass production of the automobile transformed twentieth-century America in unexpected and important ways. Foremost, and little-known, it revolutionized policing, spurring the development of police surveillance and increasing individual officers’ discretionary authority. Although this expansion of the state’s power didn’t begin with discriminatory motives, the history of policing drivers makes clear that law enforcement’s surveillance practices don’t invade people’s privacy equally, but have historically reinforced existing inequalities. This is important to remember as contemporary concerns in the face of new technologies abound.