In the News: Police and Technology

Perhaps this past holiday season you got an iPad, a Blackberry Torch, the new iPod Touch with the built-in camera to keep you in constant face-to-face contact with your old roommate from college, your spouse, or whomever.  Even if you didn’t, you probably spent a significant amount of time staying in touch with the world through various forms of technology and social networking.  While this seems to have become the norm, might the ever-expanding world of technology and communication be encroaching upon our civil liberties…?

This week it was revealed that police forces in England and Wales have gathered data on millions of people who have called to report possible crimes or pass on information, recording names, addresses and contact details, and in some cases asking for the callers’ date of birth and ethnicity.  Critics like Daniel Hamilton of the pressure group Big Brother Watch forewarn that this sort of police data collection could lead to a “Big Brother” state and argue that data could easily be accessed via freedom of information requests; 13 police forces have already complied with such requests.  “For the police to log this kind of information isn’t just wrong -it’s dangerous,” he urged, noting that “the public must be confident that, when they report a crime, they do so in the comfort of anonymity and without risk of their details being stored on a central police database which can be accessed by thousands of people.”  While senior officers admitted details could potentially be used in future investigations, they maintain that databases like these are necessary to “fight crime, protect vulnerable people and ensure concerns were dealt with appropriately”.

If that doesn’t bring you to pause, how about hidden camera police interrogations?  Sometime next month the New York Police Department will begin tests of its new plan to videotape interrogations of people suspected of felony assault. The pilot program will run in two precincts: The 67th Precinct in Brooklyn and the 48th Precinct in the Bronx.  One squad will run tests with the camera in plain view, while the other squad will use a camera that “will not be obvious,” to those being interrogated in order to examine how cameras impact interrogations.  Interestingly, the police will only be required to disclose the presence of the camera if someone under questioning directly asks about it.

Finally on a more collaborative note, some police departments have found ways to work with the public via social media networks to combat crime.  With car thefts are on the rise in Seattle, the Seattle Police Department has resorted to a new tactic for recovering stolen cars: Twitter.  The new plan involves tweeting the details -including color, year, make, model, body style, and license plate- of stolen cars and asks Twitter followers who come across the stolen rides to call 911 and provide their locations.  Seattle PD also emphasized that citizens should not confront individuals occupying stolen cars.


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