The new way police are surveilling you: Calculating your threat ‘score’
FRESNO, Calif. — While officers raced to a recent 911 call about a man threatening his ex-girlfriend, a police operator in headquarters consulted software that scored the suspect’s potential for violence the way a bank might run a credit report.
The program scoured billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and the man’s social- media postings. It calculated his threat level as the highest of three color-coded scores: a bright red warning.
The man had a firearm conviction and gang associations, so out of caution police called a negotiator. The suspect surrendered, and police said the intelligence helped them make the right call — it turned out he had a gun.
As a national debate has played out over mass surveillance by the National Security Agency, a new generation of technology such as the Beware software being used in Fresno has given local law enforcement officers unprecedented power to peer into the lives of citizens.
Police officials say such tools can provide critical information that can help uncover terrorists or thwart mass shootings, ensure the safety of officers and the public, find suspects, and crack open cases. They say that last year’s attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., have only underscored the need for such measures.
But the powerful systems also have become flash points for civil libertarians and activists, who say they represent a troubling intrusion on privacy, have been deployed with little public oversight and have potential for abuse or error. Some say laws are needed to protect the public...
False analogy. The question of the NSA is them monitoring private conversations without court authority and for little purpose. They are collecting so much data it cannot be analyzed. Arrest reports, property records, commercial databases and especially social media postings are open to the public. You don't want people to know your write gang bang crap, don't write it on Facebook. Not to mention these inquiries are targeted to a specific person.
In many instances, people have been unaware that the police around them are sweeping up information, and that has spawned controversy. Planes outfitted with cameras filmed protests and unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. For years, dozens of departments used devices that can hoover up all cellphone data in an area without search warrants. Authorities in Oregon are facing an internal investigation after using social media-monitoring software to keep tabs on Black Lives Matter hashtags.
“This is something that’s been building since September 11,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “First funding went to the military to develop this technology, and now it has come back to domestic law enforcement. It’s the perfect storm of cheaper and easier-to-use technologies and money from state and federal governments to purchase it...”
Padon me, worthless argument. "Planes outfitted with cameras filmed protests and unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo." Hate to tell you but if you are in the public, you have no expectation of privacy and can be photographed. I've often said as a cop I have no expectation of privacy while on patrol and you can use your iPhone to take pictures of me.
...An arsenal of high-tech tools
Fresno’s Real Time Crime Center is the type of facility that has become the model for high-tech policing nationwide. Similar centers have opened in New York, Houston and Seattle over the past decade.
Fresno’s futuristic control room, which operates around the clock, sits deep in its headquarters and brings together a handful of technologies that allow the department to see, analyze and respond to incidents as they unfold across this city of more than 500,000 in the San Joaquin Valley.
On a recent Monday afternoon, the center was a hive of activity. The police radio crackled over loudspeakers — “subject armed with steel rod” — as five operators sat behind banks of screens dialing up a wealth of information to help units respond to the more than 1,200 911 calls the department receives every day.
On 57 monitors that cover the walls of the center, operators zoomed and panned an array of roughly 200 police cameras perched across the city. They could dial up 800 more feeds from the city’s schools and traffic cameras, and they soon hope to add 400 more streams from cameras worn on officers’ bodies and from thousands from local businesses that have surveillance systems.
The cameras were only one tool at the ready. Officers could trawl a private database that has recorded more than 2 billion scans of vehicle licenses plates and locations nationwide. If gunshots were fired, a system called ShotSpotter could triangulate the location using microphones strung around the city. Another program, called Media Sonar, crawled social media looking for illicit activity. Police used it to monitor individuals, threats to schools and hashtags related to gangs.
Fresno police said having the ability to access all that information in real time is crucial to solving crimes.
They recently used the cameras to track a robbery suspect as he fled a business and then jumped into a canal to hide. He was quickly apprehended.
The license plate database was instrumental in solving a September murder case, in which police had a description of a suspect’s vehicle and three numbers from the license plate.
But perhaps the most controversial and revealing technology is the threat-scoring software Beware. Fresno is one of the first departments in the nation to test the program.
As officers respond to calls, Beware automatically runs the address. The searches return the names of residents and scans them against a range of publicly available data to generate a color-coded threat level for each person or address: green, yellow or red.
Exactly how Beware calculates threat scores is something that its maker, Intrado, considers a trade secret, so it is unclear how much weight is given to a misdemeanor, felony or threatening comment on Facebook. However, the program flags issues and provides a report to the user.
In promotional materials, Intrado writes that Beware could reveal that the resident of a particular address was a war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, had criminal convictions for assault and had posted worrisome messages about his battle experiences on social media. The “big data” that has transformed marketing and other industries has now come to law enforcement.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said officers are often working on scant or even inaccurate information when they respond to calls, so Beware and the Real Time Crime Center give them a sense of what may be behind the next door.
“Our officers are expected to know the unknown and see the unseen,” Dyer said. “They are making split-second decisions based on limited facts. The more you can provide in terms of intelligence and video, the more safely you can respond to calls.”
Intelligence is for the Commander, a saying from my army days on why we need information before going into an operation. This is a updated version of this process and I think it's great. Naturally you have the straw man threats...
But some in Fresno say the power and the sheer concentration of surveillance in the Real Time Crime Center is troubling. The concerns have been raised elsewhere as well — last year, Oakland city officials scaled back plans for such a center after residents protested, citing privacy concerns.
Rob Nabarro, a Fresno civil rights lawyer, said he is particularly concerned about Beware. He said outsourcing decisions about the threat posed by an individual to software is a problem waiting to happen.
Nabarro said the fact that only Intrado — not the police or the public — knows how Beware tallies its scores is disconcerting. He also worries that the system might mistakenly increase someone’s threat level by misinterpreting innocuous activity on social media, like criticizing the police, and trigger a heavier response by officers.
“It’s a very unrefined, gross technique,” Nabarro said of Beware’s color-coded levels. “A police call is something that can be very dangerous for a citizen.”
You know who else it can be dangerous for idiot, the cop going into a hostile place. This may shock you counselor, but I go where other people need someone to restore order. And idiots expect me to restore order to a situation that took years to deteriorate. So yes, I need information to safety and efficiently accomplish that task.
...Dyer said such concerns are overblown, saying the scores don’t trigger a particular police response. He said operators use them as guides to delve more deeply into someone’s background, looking for information that might be relevant to an officer on scene. He said officers on the street never see the scores.
The Fresno City Council called a hearing on Beware in November after constituents raised concerns. Once council member referred to a local media report saying that a woman’s threat level was elevated because she was tweeting about a card game titled “Rage,” which could be a keyword in Beware’s assessment of social media.
Councilman Clinton J. Olivier, a libertarian-leaning Republican, said Beware was like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel and asked Dyer a simple question: “Could you run my threat level now?”
Dyer agreed. The scan returned Olivier as a green, but his home came back as a yellow, possibly because of someone who previously lived at his address, a police official said.
“Even though it’s not me that’s the yellow guy, your officers are going to treat whoever comes out of that house in his boxer shorts as the yellow guy,” Olivier said. “That may not be fair to me.”
He added later: “[Beware] has failed right here with a council member as the example.”
Really, it's failed. It described you as "Green", low threat, while the house is "Yellow", medium threat. BTY, we don't know if you have a record from this article. You may have been busted for a few fights back in your young and stupid days. Just saying. And please Mr Oliver, don't use that four letter F word with me. The world ain't fair.
The rest of the article is the expected "balance" of ACLU comments in every "objective" media report. Again, this may disturb some but understand, as long as the data is from open sources, it's available for analysis. The ACLU types who seem to have no issue with certain high officials of our government using FBI data files which do contain restricted sensitive information will object to law enforcement using open sources like this. I will say as long as the information is available to the civilian (and yes, the criminal) it's available to the cops.
Thank you Darren at RotLC for the link.