Technology, Police, and Privacy

With personal assistance devices like the Amazon Echo being integrated into daily life, they are likely to become a sort of beacon for law enforcement looking to solve crimes.


At the intersection where technology, law enforcement and the larger criminal justice system meet is a new report that seeks to start the difficult conversations that revolve in this quickly changing environment.


The report, published Jan. 10 by the RAND Corporation and titled “Future-Proofing Justice”, looks at the criminal justice system from the perspective of those on the enforcement side, as well as those in academia and the civil rights arena.


Brian Jackson, a researcher on the project, said the goal of the work was not to outline more convenient ways for law enforcement to negotiate the technology world, but rather to try to think through these technology issues before they become a crisis situation.

“One example is the encryption debate about people’s mobile devices, where depending on if you think about a mobile device as sort of the modern person’s diary, then it makes sense that with a warrant police should be able to get access to that,’ he explained. “But there is some research that talks about the fact that these devices are gradually sort of taking on roles that are more akin to their mind and their identity. And as these devices become human implantable, even physically, will become part of the person.”


Another issue is that of data sharing and retention. The opportunity to share data between agencies and organizations poses a great benefit to the criminal justice systems in terrorism and criminal cases, but in doing so, data quality and context must be a consideration.


One area where the context and quality of data could become an issue, Jackson said, is gang investigations. If the people around a gang suspect are logged into a database without context, they could be mislabeled as gang affiliates of the subject. This provides no value for the investigator and could potentially damage the life of the misidentified subject.


“If you keep the context of that data … then someone who gets that data will know that it is speculative,” he said. “But if it’s converted into just a database entry of suspected gang associates or observed gang associates, then if that information is shared without the context, you could be in a position where another department who gets access to it is essentially making the wrong decision or reaching the wrong conclusion about that person.”


Leave a Reply