Los Angeles Law Enforcement Looking To Crowdsource Surveillance

from the snitches-get-stitches-cloud-storage dept

The LAPD wants you, Joe Citizen, to help it out with its surveillance. It has enlisted the help of a crowdsourcing tool called LEEDIR to collect photos and recordings from everyday people who may have additional footage of natural disasters or civil unrest that could help out both emergency responders and cops looking to put a few more demonstrators in jail.

In today’s announcement, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and the Boston Marathon bombings were mentioned as scenarios in which LEEDIR could help law enforcement respond to disasters or large-scale public security threats. One might also imagine large citizen protests like Occupy Wall Street being the focus of such crowdsourced surveillance.

It’s unarguable that the addition of crowdsourced photos and video helped authorities track down the Boston Bombing suspects, which shows that there is some value to this service. But, as is pointed out by Xeni Jardin, it could also be used to build a database of people enjoying First Amendment-protected activities. Currently, the site is soliciting input for any info related to last week’s party-turned-riot in Isla Vista, CA, where over 100 arrests were made and 44 people injured, including five police officers. The notice clearly states the police are “seeking to identify several subjects wanted for violent felonies that occurred during the evening.”

This is a potentially useful tool that isn’t completely evil, but there are some definite concerns. For one, there’s no real way to submit anything anonymously. You aren’t required to input your name, but the app itself demands access to GPS data and any other communications-related metadata is likely hoovered up by LEEDIR when images and video are uploaded.

There are also other questions left unanswered about the handling of the data submitted.

According to today’s announcement, agencies might typically retain uploaded content for a month or two, then delete it. But there’s no requirement to delete it…

And the way the system is accessed and used seems to lend itself to abuse.

It’s up to law enforcement to provide analysts or investigators to sort through all of the content uploaded to LEEDIR and find potential evidence…

Once the content is uploaded, it belongs to law enforcement, [Co-Global CEO Nick] Namikas said. It’s up to each agency to decide how long they want to store the content in the cloud – a service being provided by Amazon.

An unfiltered influx of photos and videos curated by law enforcement officers. What could possibly go wrong? The tool may be aimed at natural disasters (which provides free access to police and emergency responders in the affected area), but paid subscriptions are available which would keep LEEDIR live at all times for any law enforcement agency willing to foot the bill.

As if the potential negatives of this sort of crowdsourcing weren’t apparent enough, there’s also the very large problem of who’s behind this new system.

Under the leadership of disgraced former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, the department is said to have conceptualized the web service and smartphone app, which was built by Citizen Global with Amazon

Baca’s administration was plagued by corruption and scandal, and he resigned amid ongoing investigation into possible criminal activity. Certainly no such imperfect leader would misuse LEEDIR.

But LA Sheriff’s Dept. commander Scott Edson sees no downside:

“I like to call this a flag-waving opportunity,” Edson said. “This is a great opportunity for the public who really wants to catch those guys as badly as any law enforcement agency wants to catch them. Now they’re going to have an opportunity.”

Sure. Just like “see something, say something” filled DHS Fusion Centers with thousands of reports of people using cameras. With unfiltered access to whatever citizens submit, law enforcement can browse for unrelated criminal activity or simply use it to fill in the holes in their surveillance network.

It’s not that it couldn’t help, as it did in the Boston Bombing. It’s that the downside isn’t even being considered by the proponents of the system, which include a former law enforcement official accused of corruption. There’s seemingly no oversight to the program and absolutely no concerns being raised about privacy or the potentially endless retention of non-relevant footage and photos.

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Comments on “Los Angeles Law Enforcement Looking To Crowdsource Surveillance”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Looking at the permissions requested, they go far beyond those needed to upload photos and videos. Of particular concern are GPS location, where you are when you upload, and also camera and microphone control, spy on what you are doing when you upload. Why does it need access to your on line accounts and network state or full Internet access. Also why does it need write and delete permission over files, unless it is to be able to delete files that incriminate the authorities.
The requested permissions look more like let us spy on you than give us any possible evidence that you may have captured. The gathering of evidence needs the ability to upload a files under user control, and maybe take a live video/audio feed, also under user control, oh and the option on the upload site for the user to identify themselves if they are willing to appear as a witness.

Violynne (profile) says:

“It’s unarguable…”
Brain… temporarily… broken. I know it’s in the dictionary, but damn, does it look ugly in the real world.

Not criticizing, just wasn’t prepared to see anyone actually use this version.


Don’t be too surprised this kind of thing grows in popularity.

The first step to making a police state is to pretend people aren’t in one.

This program is going to get huge support because people just can’t see 3 steps in front of them, until it’s too late.

me@me.net says:

Trust is a another issue

the NYPD, LAPD, Chicago PD as well as the FBI are in manys opinions less than trustworthy in their methods. The LAPD is not the proper salesman for this idea.

ANd thats without even getting into the abuse angle. Or the fact that I’m not seeing what’s to prevent protesters from “flooding the sytem” with useless photos of puppies, and clowns and fire hydrants…

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Trust is a another issue

Or the fact that I’m not seeing what’s to prevent protesters from “flooding the sytem” with useless photos of puppies, and clowns and fire hydrants…

This could be interesting. Or maybe the protesters themselves taking pictures of random people, including bystanders and uploading them all. This thing is exploitable in both directions!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Trust is a another issue

Yes, I understand. However, let’s look at this another way. Assume for the moment that the intention of the police is actually pure and they have no intention of spying on people through their cellphones.

They want to provide an easy way for people to record and submit lawbreaking in progress. A website won’t do for this — that’s too cumbersome. An app is the way to go. The app should be as convenient to use as possible. This means that the app itself should record the video and audio. That video and audio should be geolocated so the cops know where it was taken. The app should also be able to upload the data to the cops.

The permissions requested are exactly what would be required to accomplish all of that.

Whether or not the cops deserve the amount of trust that capability requires is a different issue, but that they are asking for those permissions is not actually evidence of ill intent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Trust is a another issue

The problem is with the way that Android handles permissions. A user installing an app is forced to decide whether or not an app should be allowed to do a bunch of different general things, in all or nothing fashion, now and in the future, without a specific context. In other words, there’s no fine-grained control over the what, when, where, and how.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

How will they establish the provenance of this data?

In other words, how will they determine that photos/videos are unaltered and that the metadata associated with them hasn’t been tampered with?

Making such a determination is (a) difficult (b) time-consuming and (c) occasionally impossible based on the available facts. So will they tackle the job, or will they just blithely drop everything they get into their database without bothering? If the former, then the intake rate will be extremely slow and the cost will be quite high. If the latter, then they’ll soon have a database full of unverified crap, some of which will be deliberately falsified.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


Come on folks. Can’t you see the symmetry here? The cops who were caught removing the antennas from their personal video systems need to be punished. Those poor public servants will be FORCED, FORCED I tell you to validate all the incoming data under this program. That is a dastardly punishment, I tell you. And so efficient.

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