Police Use Software to Calculate “Threat Score”

In Fresno, CA, police officers have begun to use software that determines a person’s potential for violence much like a bank might run a client’s credit. Its program scours data regarding arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and the man’s social-media postings. With this information inputted, the man’s threat level was calculated to be the highest of three gradients the span from green to orange to red.

If a man has a firearm conviction, for example, or a gang association, that information is taken into consideration when determining his score. Police can then calculate his score upon being alerted of an issue and know whether or not they should send a negotiator or a squad unit to the scene of the crime.

fresnoThe algorithm used is all part of the Beware software, a tool being used by Fresno police that gives them unprecedented surveillance power. This makes many citizens uncomfortable, but police argue for its necessity given the Paris and San Bernadino terrorist attacks’ proof that more data must be collected to prevent mass shootings and equip officers with the information they need in times of emergency.

Civil libertarians and activists disagree. They claim that the Beware software is an intrusion on people’s privacy and has been deployed with little to know public oversight, meaning it has the potential to be abused.

In general, people don’t like discovering that law enforcement has been snooping on their lives without notifying them or, in some cases, having the proper warrants. People are just realizing that many departments were collecting massive amounts of cellphone data without search warrants. Some Authorities in Oregon are now facing an internal investigation after using social-media monitoring software to keep tabs on the activists involved in the Black Lives Matter protest. The software allegedly tracked hashtags related to the movement and who was saying them.

“This is something that’s been building since September 11,” claimed Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Lynch is a senior staff attorney dedicated to protecting civil liberties in the digital era. “First funding went to the military to develop this technology, and now it has come back to domestic law enforcement. It’s the perfect storm of cheaper and easier-to-use technologies and money from the state and federal governments to purchase it.”

Although most police departments refuse to discuss what surveillance tools they’re using, the Fresno police department was remarkably open about their Beware software, among other advances.

fresno2The Fresno cops also use something ShotSpotter, which can triangulate the location of a gunshot using microphones strung around the city. Media Sonar allows cops to leave social media scanning to programs, which turn up whatever illicit activity they find. Apparently it’s been incremental in helping Police, to monitor individuals, threats to schools and hashtags related to certain gangs. They can also dial up feeds from school and traffic cameras to try to search for particular license plates or criminals on the move. Apparently there are 200 police cameras and 800 feeds from city’s schools and traffic cameras, plus there will be 400 more streams once officers get body cameras.

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