How High Tech Helps Police, Raises Liberties Risks

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Technology, particularly rapid analysis and sharing of data, is helping the police be more efficient and predict possible crimes. This type of technology raises issues of civil liberties, as digital information provided by social media or the sensors of the internet of things is combined with criminal data by companies that sell this information to law enforcement agencies, reports the New York Times. Even companies that make money from this sort of work warn that it comes with civil rights risks. “We’re heading to a world where every trash can has an identifier. Even I get shocked at the comprehensiveness of what data providers sell,” said Courtney Bowman of Palantir Technologies, a Palo Alto, Ca., company that sells data analysis tools. He has lectured on the hazards of predictive policing and the need to prove in court that predictive models follow understandable logic and do not reinforce stereotypes.

Some of the shift to data-based policing is a matter of simple automation. The RELX Group, formerly Reed Elsevier, has been buying and building up databases of police information. Its Coplogic is used by 5,000 U.S. police departments. Coplogic automates filling out accident reports. When a police officer enters a license plate number, many other fields on the report, like the registered address associated with the car, are automatically filled in. The company says this can halve the time an officer spends filing a report. Cities can use the service to identify their most dangerous traffic spots. “This frees up time and resources for higher-value activities, like predictive policing,” said Roy Marler of Coplogic. “The state can use this data to get federal funding for roadway improvements.” RELX has become the Ticketmaster of insurance reporting. It handles 500,000 requests a month for digital accident reports, charging a $7 “convenience fee” to provide the information. Cities get a cut of the $7.

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