Edge AI v. Tennessee Alarm Systems Contractors Board
Adam Jackson knows security. He is a highly trained former soldier. He helped to provide electronic security for a U.S embassy, and installed systems on overseas military bases. Adam (now a civilian) and his partners developed groundbreaking facial recognition software that can instantly scan the face of someone appearing on security cameras and match it with known offender databases. It is designed to strengthen the defenses at the most vulnerable of locations, be that in abused women’s shelters, child sex crimes victims, or even schools. Right now, a local synagogue has tried to use Adam’s product. Adam wants to help. It would be illegal for him to even donate this product.
Standing in his way is Tennessee’s Alarm Systems Contractors Board. The Alarm Board told him he cannot distribute this product — fully acknowledging its tremendous potential to protect children and abuse victim — until he obtained a license to install alarm systems, even though what he offers is nothing like an alarm. What he has made is simply software that enhances the capability of existing systems.
Adam’s software features an alert mechanism that allows security directors to receive text messages on their personal cell phones. The alerts notify them when the software makes a possible match from a fully customizable database of known offenders, like a sex offender database. Administrators at schools, preschools, and daycares are all constantly trying to manage who comes onto their property. Adam’s software is a tool that can be used to identify sex offenders and other dangerous individuals trying to enter their premises without exhausting manpower, and at an affordable price. Adam’s product is the future, and it is ready to be deployed.
Earlier this year, as Adam prepared to bring his software to market, he learned of Tennessee’s restrictions on alarm companies. He does not install alarms, but, out of caution, Adam appeared before Tennessee’s Alarm Contractors Board to explain how his system worked. To his surprise, the Board told him he was in a “grey area” and ought to get a license. Even more, they refused to tell him for sure whether his years of military serviced qualified him to get the license until he paid them an exorbitant amount in non-refundable application fees.
That ruling essentially shut Adam down due to the fact that the statute requires an alarm company to have a board-approved manager with a Bachelors degree in an engineering field, as well as two years of experience in the alarm industry, or be a manager with five years experience in the alarm industry.
Rather than submit or move out of state, Adam challenged the board’s decision.
Public awareness of the strangling growth of occupational licensure has risen sharply in Tennessee. New laws like the Right to Earn a Living Act, and our lawsuits challenging Tennessee’s shampooing and horse massage license, have cast a light on this dark reality. Some activities that should never require a license like shampooing do (or once did, until our lawsuit). Other licenses are applied by aggressive boards to harmless activities that should never be considered as falling under the license. This case presents an example of the latter.
Tennessee has a regulatory board requiring a mandatory certification – in effect, a license – for alarm system installers. By software as an alarm system even though it bears no resemblance to what one traditionally associates with an alarm system (motion detectors, cameras), the board has imposed an unreasonable and irrational requirement. Still worse, it operates as an intolerable burden on the dissemination of information. All the system does is share information with unprecedented speed and effectiveness. By prohibiting Adam from sharing this information, the Board has turned this into a free speech issue. This is technology we should welcome with open arms, but the Board is strangling it with outmoded definitions.
Software is not an alarm system. Installation does not involve electrical or internal wiring. It is about as technical as connecting a computer to the Internet. This software functions in a similar manner to Facebook’s technology that suggests a tag on a photo when the picture looks like another Facebook profile.
Getting the license is not a realistic option. Adam would have to become an apprentice for five years installing alarm systems like burglar alarms to qualify. Not only is this a ludicrously high hurdle, especially for someone with Adam’s credentials, learning how to install burglar alarms or closed-circuit television systems would not in any way prepare him to install software. Besides, Adam’s software only works through existing closed circuit television systems. As a qualification, this flatly makes no sense so this is irrational to classify his activity as an alarm system and an unconscionable burden on his economic freedom.
The other worrisome aspect of this license is the free speech implication. The Supreme Court has consistently recognized that the dissemination of information is speech. That’s all Adam’s software does. If Adam recognized someone entering a school from a poster he had seen at the post office, no one could prohibit him from sharing that bit of information. This is no different. It just works better. In a situation where an angry domestic abuser is looking for his witness wife, timely information can make all the difference.
We are representing him before the board to ensure that he can bring this important product to those who desperately want to do a better job protecting the people who trust them.
The Legal Team
Braden Boucek is the Director of Litigation for the Beacon Center.
Justin Owen is the president and CEO of the Beacon Center.