Could CrimeDex Lead To Civil Liberties Violations?


Law enforcement agencies are jumping on the social networking bandwagon, says the New York Times. A few companies are developing promising businesses, and supporters have named the trend Law Enforcement 2.0. This crime-fighting method promises great improvements over traditional ways of getting things done but it challenges privacy protections, like limitations on the information investigators can share about people they may suspect of committing crimes. Police are using the same Web tools as everyone else – like YouTube, Twitter, and MySpace. Now Web services are being developed specifically to allow public and private investigative agencies to share information, and these tools are increasingly popular within law enforcement.

One service, called CrimeDex, is billed by its creators as a “Facebook for law enforcement.” Jim Hudson, a former officer, started the service in 2002 after growing frustrated with the wasted time investigators spent trying to determine whether other agencies were chasing the same suspects. CrimeDex, now owned by 3VR, a San Francisco company that makes an image recognition system for surveillance cameras, says it is used by more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies and private businesses like banks and retail chains. For a monthly fee, members can submit information, photographs and videos related to possible crimes and make comparisons with data from agencies that may be seeing similar patterns or suspects. Civil liberties advocates worry about possible abuses of CrimeDex. The police typically file subpoenas or make other formal requests to get companies to hand over evidence of a crime. There is no legal process, or oversight, for sharing information on CrimeDex. Privacy advocates believe that a bank or another company may wrongly put an innocent person's name or image onto the system, and that the person could suffer consequences elsewhere.

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