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article imageOp-Ed: Be careful not to elevate your Threat Score

By Ken Hanly     Jan 14, 2016 in Crime
Fresno - Edward Snowden has revealed a great deal about how the daily lives of Americans are monitored by the National Security Agency, but a new generation of technology gives the government and local police forces more power by using publicly available data.
North Korea apparently assigns a score to each of its citizens depending on how large of a threat to the regime each is perceived to be. The United States of America now employs a similar scheme using the latest technology. The U.S. system, being capitalist, depends on outsourcing to creative private entrepreneurs rather than the government to develop the appropriate software and no doubt generate profits from assessing the Threat Scores of citizens. The government and local police role will be to buy such software and employ it as part of their work, especially in responding to 911 calls.
Intrado , part of West Corporation, provides software that can generate a Threat Score that can be used to alert security officers on the way to a possible crime scene of the likely threat they will face at a certain address or from individuals. One of their products is called Beware: Accessed through any browser (fixed or mobile) on any Internet-enabled device including tablets, smartphones, laptop and desktop computers, Beware® from Intrado searches, sorts and scores billions of publically-available commercial records in a matter of seconds - alerting responders to potentially dangerous situations while en route to, or at the location of, a 9-1-1 request for assistance. Intrado Beware® is a tool to help first responders understand the nature of the environment they may encounter during the window of a 9-1-1 event. It augments established protocols and procedures used by public safety personnel and presents data in a way that is typically unavailable to the first responder, helping them to be better prepared to render aid in response to an emergency situation. As the description points out, the data it mines is publicly available, so it is not doing any illegal snooping. It uses all this data to assign a Threat Score.
The data mined includes arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, Web searches, and even social media postings. Already authorities in Oregon are facing a civil rights investigation after using social media-monitoring software to keep track of what those using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter are doing.
The software certainly could be helpful to police as described in a case cited in the Washington Post, in which software set the threat level to be faced as red the highest of the three levels. The police as a precaution called a negotiator who was able to get the suspect to surrender. It turned out that the suspect had a gun. Yet critics point out that the information may not always be that reliable. One report cites the case of woman whose Threat Level was elevated, it appears, only because she was constantly tweeting about a card game called "Rage," probably a keyword triggering an elevation of the threat level if used often.
The Fresno police were one of the first forces to adopt the new technology. At a council meeting Clinton Olivier, a libertarian-leaning Republican, found Beware to be like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel. He asked the Fresno police chief if he would check his threat level right there and then. The chief agreed. While Olivier's level was green, the lowest, his residence was yellow, a middle level threat. Probably this was due to someone who formerly lived at the residence. Journalist Brian Burghart of a database of police killings of citizens, claims the new technology is just an outgrowth of post-9/11 fear mongering. He said: "I spend eight hours a day researching police violence, so I don't know how many times I've typed the words 'police killed.' I imagine I'd probably score pretty good on this thing. Most journalists would."
The use of this type of technology shows that dangerous types of snooping can be carried out without the illegal type of invasion of privacy that whistle-blowers such as Snowden revealed. New types of spying can emerge simply by using software to search and filter information about you that is then used by the police and the state to take actions that could be dangerous and unwarranted. Unlike North Korea the state and security agencies do not need to keep records of each citizens' threat level. It is available as a live update within a few seconds.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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