Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Digital Panopticon

Predictions for Policing in 2015:

Here, drawn from interviews with a range of thinkers and practitioners, is a glimpse of how tomorrow’s police officers may go about identifying, pursuing, and arresting their targets.
How They Know A Crime is Taking Place:
  • Devices designed to detect questionable activity are proliferating.
  • Several cities have recently put in place networks of microphone-based gunshot sensors, and others are likely to adopt similar systems. When a sensor picks up a suspicious noise, a computer program analyzes the sound and, if it resembles gunfire, determines its point of origin to within a few yards. A human reviews the report and, if warranted, dispatches officers to the scene—all within about 40 seconds of the gunshot.
  • A Vancouver company is testing marijuana breathalyzers that can approximate the amount of THC in a person’s system; Guohua Li, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, thinks they will probably be in routine use within five years.
  • Police may also start making use of intelligent surveillance cameras equipped with sensors that can identify abnormal or suspicious behavior. 
  • At the federal level, an initiative called Next Generation 911 will enable victims and witnesses to send texts and, eventually, photos and videos to emergency dispatchers—something that’s currently impossible because the 911 network runs on analog technology from the 1970s. People caught in situations—home invasions, for instance, or domestic-violence incidents—in which they can’t safely speak into a phone will be able to get help, and police will receive valuable real-time crime-scene footage.
  • Controversially, police departments are starting to monitor social media, which many gangs have embraced as a vehicle for branding and boasting. By searching for specific keywords and mapping interactions among individual users, law-enforcement agencies can keep track of suspected gang members, and identify bubbling gang rivalries. They can also infiltrate networks by posting under aliases and “friending” suspects.
Finding Suspects:
  • Departments that would rather not rely on probabilities might try the new-fangled “send an airplane with cameras into the sky and have it record every single thing that happens below” technique. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, that’s more or less what police in Compton, California, have been doing. Kannappan Palaniappan, a computer-science professor at the University of Missouri, says this could one day become a standard method for monitoring high-crime urban neighborhoods. With the use of wide-area surveillance, police would be able to “go to the tape” when, say, a drive-by shooting occurred, and track the assailants’ movements.
That a computer science professor could say this with a straight face is astonishing. Define "high-crime urban neighborhoods"? I'll be happy to: poor people and minorities, under 24/7 surveillance. I wonder if Palaniappan would advocate airplane cameras to fly over middle class gated communities as well?
  • Wide-area surveillance is not coming to your town tomorrow, however. For starters, huge leaps in data-storage technology must occur before police can feasibly keep a 24/7 video record of an entire city, according to Palaniappan. What the ACLU’s Jay Stanley calls “societal self-restraint” will likely play a role as well.
What I like to call "social control."

Arresting Someone:
  • Confronting suspects and taking them into custody should become safer for police officers, thanks to so-called real-time crime centers staffed by analysts who can transmit information to officers en route to a crime scene—the criminal histories of the people who live at that address, say, or floor-plan details, or intelligence gathered from surveillance cameras.
  • An even more profound change involves the personal information that will be collected immediately following an arrest. Tablets equipped with facial-recognition software have already been rolled out in San Diego. 
  • the FBI has launched a giant database of biometric information that includes images of people’s faces, irises, fingerprints, and palms, as well as details about tattoos, scars, and other markings. Civil-liberties groups worry that as police make use of new identification tools during routine stops—and in the process collect new kinds of biometric data, including DNA and voice samples—the FBI’s database will swell with intimate information about people who are never convicted of any crime.
  • According to the Boise State University psychology professor Charles Honts, interrogations could also become less coercive as agencies across the country decide to abandon their traditional interrogation method, known as the Reid Technique. 
  • Newer approaches discourage officers from lying to suspects about evidence or attempting to manipulate them through implicit threats and promises. Instead of, say, looking for signs of deception in suspects’ nonverbal behavior, interviewers are encouraged to create situations that give suspects an opportunity to contradict evidence investigators have already confirmed.
  • Experimental research by Saul Kassin, a psychologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has shown that, compared with these newer methods, older methods that rely on deceiving the suspect increase the risk that innocent people will confess.
So out of all these, only the last one is actually positive. Eliminating false or coerced confessions is vital and crucial to the criminal justice system.

As to the rest? Beyond terrifying. We are talking about ramping up the digital panopticon, the soft cage, to levels no one thought possible even a few years ago.

Since it's almost New Year's Eve, here's my new year's prediction: eventually iron bar and concrete jails and prisons will become a thing of the past, because every single one of us will be living in a global, societal prison, the likes of which has never been seen before.

Happy New Year!

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