Good manners and presumption of innocence are out, social media searching is in.
How to know what to expect from strangers is an age-old problem. One of the human customs that evolved to address the issue is the concept and practice of good manners. The shaking of hands, for example, meant that you were both offering your primary sword hand to a potential opponent. It is too bad that manners seem to be declining in society, but it is up to leaders to slow and perhaps reverse that decline in the culture.
Or you can violate people’s privacy, judge them, and then treat them as a threat. If you’re the police, that is what you do.
From a Reuters blog: “Cops scan social media to help assess your ‘threat rating’”
Public safety organizations, using federal funding, are set to begin building a $7-billion nationwide first-responder wireless network, called FirstNet. Money is now being set aside. With this network, information-sharing capabilities and federal-state coordination will likely grow substantially. Some uses of FirstNet will improve traditional services like 911 dispatches. Other law enforcement uses aren’t as pedestrian, however.
One such application is Beware, sold to police departments since 2012 by a private company, Intrado. This mobile application crawls over billions of records in commercial and public databases for law enforcement needs. The application “mines criminal records, Internet chatter and other data to churn out … profiles in real time,” according to one article in an Illinois newspaper.
Here’s how the company describes it on their website:
Accessed through any browser (fixed or mobile) on any Internet-enabled device including tablets, smartphones, laptop and desktop computers, Beware® from Intrado searches, sorts and scores billions of commercial records in a matter of seconds—alerting responders to potentially deadly and dangerous situations while en route to, or at the location of a call.
Crunching all the database information in a matter of seconds, the Beware algorithm then assigns a score and “threat rating” to a person — green, yellow or red. It sends that rating to a requesting officer.
For example, working off a home address, Beware can send an officer basic information about who lives there, their cell phone numbers, whether they have past convictions and the cars registered to the address. Police have had access to this information before, but Beware makes it available immediately.
Yet it does far more — scanning the residents’ online comments, social media and recent purchases for warning signs. Commercial, criminal and social media information, including, as Intrado vice president Steve Reed said in an interview with urgentcomm.com, “any comments that could be construed as offensive,” all contribute to the threat score.
So now we know that Libertarians or pro-Second-Amendment conservatives are going to be singled out for harsher treatment. These people have already justified SWAT raids against people who weren’t even on the arrest warrant on the basis of a legal application for a concealed-carry license.
What is going to happen to Tea Party activists? Not to be too selfish about this, but what is going to happen to conservative Christian bloggers?
If you think I am being paranoid, think again. There is no way that this algorithm can have been field-tested sufficiently yet. So how is it going to be tested? The answer is obvious. It will be tweaked every time there is another scandalous killing of an innocent and/or unarmed man. And every time the police will say that they were simply following the threat reading that their app gave them. The best you can say about this is that they are willing to use the populace as guinea pigs in a dangerous experiment.
You know that “any comments that could be construed as offensive” will include any Christian statement about marriage or Islam or abortion. The police are being given charge of punishing thoughtcrime before our eyes.