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When Software Ate Police Work

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When Software Ate Police Work

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If you live in California and had your phone turned on one evening  last week, you were probably startled to get a text from the statewide system that alerts residents to emergencies.

Boulevard, CA AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/6WCU986 (CA) Blue Nissan Versa 4 door

While it was startling for many, what it showed us was the latest generation of software eating police work. It was the virtual knock on the door in the middle of the night. While users can opt out of the system in their <notifications> settings, I suspect most will keep the alerts for the high-minded purpose they serve…alerting us to the kidnapping of children.

What it means for policing

At an even higher level, though, is what this means for policing. Just like the cameras mounted on the entrances and exits to Tiburon, California, the science of policing is rapidly becoming more data intensive, more effective and at the same time more potentially intrusive. We can all agree when the technology arrives as a way to stop something everyone can rally around, like child kidnapping, but the questions arrive when technology sticks around to do things that aren’t quite so accepted, like tracking everyone’s comings and goings, guilty or not.

What about when everyone can get a text and give an opinion on who’s guilty? Where does that differ from the block committees in communist countries that report to the government? Where does it begin and end appropriately?

Before we reach a point where bad things happen, it would be a great idea for governments to come up with published standards for how and where data can be captured, used and stored and notifications made. President Obama went on the news just today to calm people’s fears about the national security needs for surveillance versus the respect of personal privacy. This will continue to be a hot topic until it gets codified in law.

Click the image below to see Obama’s speech.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 2.09.42 PM

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