That angry social media post you once made in your drunken rage and forgot about, well, it can now identify you as a potential danger by increasing your “threat score.”
In a turn of events reminiscent to some dystopian fiction, police in the United States are now surveilling civilians using a new generation of technology that determines how dangerous suspects could be while cops respond to 911 calls.
Law enforcement officials in Fresno, California, are among the first ones in the country to test-drive brand new software that scours billions of data points – including people’s arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, online purchases, deep Web searches and social media presence to find out if they pose a risk to those around them.
As The Washington Post reports, threat-scoring software Beware can search through various databases to uncover information that may even aid officers during terrorist activities and mass shootings.
For instance, if an officer receives a 911 call, Beware will automatically run that address or phone number against a range of publicly available data in real time. The search results will then generate a color-coded threat level for the address or its residents. The colors include green, yellow or red – with red being the most dangerous.
Since the new technology gives police unprecedented power to peer into our personal lives, activists and civil libertarians are slamming it as an intrusion on privacy. They believe the authorities implemented it with little public oversight to monitor the civilians.
“This is something that’s been building since September 11,” Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Post. “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.”
While the threat scoring could help ensure the safety of both civilians and the cops, it could also result in more instances of police brutality. Since the computer-generated score is determined by a variety of factors, which the maker of the software is reluctant to make public, there is a fair chance that the person who is color-coded red might not be a potential threat at all.
“Our officers are expected to know the unknown and see the unseen,” explained Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. “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.”
Intrado, the company behind the software, has not yet specified how does the program tallies misdemeanor, a felony charge and a threatening Facebook comment while calculating the threat score.
“It’s a very unrefined, gross technique,” said Rob Nabarro, a Fresno civil rights lawyer who is particularly concerned about Beware. “A police call is something that can be very dangerous for a citizen.”
Meanwhile, the law enforcement officials claim the scores do not trigger a particular police response and is only used by operators to uncover information that might be relevant to an officer on scene.
However, that does not make the whole thing any less disturbing, right? In fact, the Internet has already begun comparing Beware to China’s Sesame Credit Score – a system largely described as the tool to kill democracy.
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Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Eric Gaillard