Crowdsourcing Law Enforcement

from the first-10-callers-to-identify-this-fugitive... dept

In a move that seems calculated to evoke the film adaptation of 1984, the FBI has announced a plan to begin using some 150 Clear Channel digital billboards in major American cities to show national security alerts, information about recent crimes, and photographs of fugitive criminals and missing persons, all with real-time updates.

A pilot billboard in Philadelphia has already helped to capture several wanted criminals, and a spokesman for the outdoor advertising industry suggests that these kinds of publicity tactics can be as useful at demoralizing criminals as they are at generating tips:

"What law enforcement tells us is it contributes to an environment where the criminal feels they have no where to go. A lot of times they end up just giving up."

In a way, the surprising thing is that law enforcement officials hadn't previously taken such visible steps to make use of the distributed eyes and ears of ordinary citizens. The problem, of course, is that publicity can also generate lots of time-consuming false leads. An advertisement currently ubiquitous on New York subways applauds the thousands of New Yorkers who phoned in reports of suspicious packages in the past year. But since we haven't heard reports of thousands of bombs recovered on the A train, it seems safe to surmise that the noise-to-signal ratio on such tips is quite high. As for national security alerts, our experience with color-coded national security warnings, and the attendant spectacle of panicked citizens mobbing Home Depot for plastic sheeting and duct tape, suggest that the Bureau might be well advised to exercise a bit of circumspection about those real-time updates.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    LBD, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 6:50pm

    Speaking of the collor coded list

    Green means nothing since we'll never see it.
    Likewise for blue
    Yellow means you're as likely to die from a terrorist attack as you are to win the lottery three years running, then get struck by a meteorite
    Orange means that they want to scare you, but there's still no real threat
    Red means that there are people disagreeing with them in the white-house that they want to keep silent

    No relation to terrorisim threat levels

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    dorpus, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 7:55pm

    Unpublicized successes

    Many law enforcement successes do not get publicized for fear of copycat crimes. Real bombs are more common than most people realize. Lots of shooting rampages never make it beyond local news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Shalkar, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 8:16pm

    Combine this with the plan to advertise on cell phones using location information and you have a mug shot popping-up on your iPhone and a text "33 inches to your left, don't make any sudden movements...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    angry young man, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 7:33am

    how long will it be

    before an innocent "suspect" is beaten to death by a mob, or until the system is hacked to show an innocent person who's reputation will be forever ruined?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Alfred E. Neuman, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 8:02am

    Re: how long will it be

    No long. I'm sure that the picture quality obtained from the Kwik-E-Mart cam will be so bad that it could "match" just about anyone.

    It would be humorous to hack the BB and put up a pic of your least favorite political figure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    nipsey russell, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 12:17pm

    Re: how long will it be

    "by angry young man on Dec 29th, 2007 @ 7:33am
    how long will it be before an innocent "suspect" is beaten to death by a mob....?"

    i dont know... how long does it take when the picture is already in the newspaper, on the evening news, and on wanted posters on local storefronts and in the post office?????

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 1:56pm

    A pretty damn long time...

    Unless it was a local crime, in which case the locals already know who it was and why they want to lynch him... A billboard is not going to stop them or help them. However, in this day and age, where people 'don't want to get involved', a billboard with a number would be pretty damn helpful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Lucretious, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 4:32pm

    Sorry but I'm not seeing a big downside to this. As far as wasting time chasing false leads, if it were that much of an issue I doubt most LE officials would get behind it.

    Theres a LOT of things LE is doing that bears watching (cameras at every step in major US cities for example) but I honestly don't see where this has the "slippery slope" thing going for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Ringmeat, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 4:35pm

    before an innocent "suspect" is beaten to death by a mob...

    Crowds have stood by while woman have been beaten and raped, old men knifed, etc and no one bothered to help, do you really beleive we'll all suddenly turn vigilante because a few faces show up on local cable?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    inc, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 6:15pm

    "What law enforcement tells us is it contributes to an environment where the criminal feels they have no where to go. A lot of times they end up just giving up."

    sounds like criminals will get even more desperate go out in a blaze of glory. People that have nowhere to go don't always give up by walking into a police station

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    robte, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 4:08am

    Tell me again, they get paid for..............

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 10:10am


    my friend left her backpack on a subway. nothing really of value in it, but i offered to call to find it. she said, "are you kidding? homeland security will come and take me away for causing a panic on purpose..." who knows if she was right? im guessing she's not the only one who thinks this way...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    dualboot, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 10:23am

    america's most wanted...

    The TV show works on this premise, and sometimes leads come in leading to their arrest. I think that if they make it a reward system for the "safe" apprehension of the criminal or a tip leading to their capture it would be a way to speed-up the process, and citizens would fed less helpless since they would be able to DO something. i.e. know who the heck to call. The police can deal with the criminals, but I think it's a great idea to get more civilians involved. I would subscribe to the text or picture mail... The Nationalists for Lost Children (or some other similarly-named agency) has already been using fax and email pictures lo locate missing children successfully for years... I think this is just the next logical progression... if the law enforcers run out of leads, this can help them generate more leads.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Bob Dobbs, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 1:53pm

    Hopefully Ron Paul Will Eliminate FBI

    They can shove their signs and the rest of their gestapo tactics. I want to see thousands of FBI thugs standing in unemployment lines as a necessary step to restoring America's freedom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Jeff, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 2:11pm

    Why all the hubbub?

    This is the FBI we're talking about. Sure this will all get implemented, but it's not going to function properly. They'll hire some 5th-rate, college-roommate lowest-bidder to do all the work.

    The only thing our gov't and its various agencies are good at anymore is lying, stealing and torturing brown people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    chris (profile), Dec 31st, 2007 @ 6:29am

    law enforcement on rye, hold the orwell

    i am all for privacy and limiting the powers of government, but lets have a little perspective here:

    1) 150 screens in a country the size of the US is not that many screens. assuming they put up multiple screens in a city and only in big cities, chances are there won't be any where you live. when the number grows to 1500, or 3000, then it's time to be concerned.

    2) it's the FBI putting up pictures of people it's looking for and not more cameras. screens are good, cameras and wiretaps are bad. this is about finding the actual bad guys, not turning citizens into bad guys. not everything the FBI does is a direct threat to our civil liberties.

    3) this is a move that invites us, the citizenry, into the law enforcement process. this is them trusting us to help. presumably, this is the next extension of the "amber alert system". there are text screens on the highways in the cincinnati area that give you updates on traffic situations and amber alerts. this is a means for law enforcement to obtain intel that doesn't involve taps, cameras, data mining, or rendition. programs like this one are how the FBI *should* be operating.

    the question that we should all be asking, is why are they using clear channel billboards? is this an exclusive deal? was this one of those no bid contracts? did clear channel donate the screens? clear channel is a huge national media conglomerate, will local law enforcement be able to make use as well?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    OKVol, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 6:31am

    Re: Hopefully Ron Paul Will Eliminate FBI

    They won't be in unemployment lines - they will be working for Blackwater and the new mega-corp government that is already running the country.

    Ron Paul, Hillary, Rudy, and the gang are running for President, not King (like our current ruler has established himself.) Regardless of their claims, Congress still passes the laws.

    Ron Paul claims he can eliminate so much of the government, Dennis claims he can shut down the nuclear plants, Hillary is going to implement national health care. I hereby call BS on all these claims, as those are not within the powers of the President to do according to their will.

    Back on topic, yes the FBI will screw this up some and innocent folk will suffer. But remember the pedophile sought by England was found by using the Internet to track him down in southeast Asia. Who reads the wanted poster in the Post Office nowdays?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 6:52am

    Ummm, how long has the FBI had their most wanted list? How long has there been TV programs about criminals?

    What exactly is this story about again? Something new? I think not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    methylamine, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 7:04am

    Um..Running Man, anyone?

    I fear the government much more than most two-bit criminals. After all, who can deprive me of my freedom most easily?

    Doesn't anyone remember Running Man? Doesn't this type of system seem uncomfortably authoritarian? I'm not even certain the "criminals" in these posters etc. are who Big Brother says they are. It's easy to slap a "drug dealer" or "pedophile" label on someone; but do we really know?

    As I recall, the FBI and ATF floated a couple of such trial balloons against the victims at David Kouresh's church in Waco. First they tried sticking weapons charges on them; hand grenades or automatic weapons. Never did see any evidence of that. Next they tried sticking drug charges on them--claiming they were manufacturing methamphetamine. No evidence for that, either.

    No; if anyone should be demonized, it's our beloved government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Um..Running Man, anyone?

    You have a good point but it has nothing to do with the billboards, as you can be wanted for a crime and have your face all over the evening news across America already. An extra X number of bilboards displaying the same information does not change the issue that you're talking about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Sad so sad, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 5:30pm

    Coverage is spotty false and misleading

    Hey, you think there have been no bomb attempts that the USA doesnt tell you about?

    That is foolhardy in so many ways it is hard to nail down:

    When the three letter agencies are successful, we do not hear a word publicly, need to know.

    Criminals feeling they have no where to go is a dangerous thing, and if you had ever gone hungry long enough, you would realize much crime is resultant of same, thus "feelings" are weak substitutes for "Food and shelter".

    You are right, except we have gone so far beyond Big Brother (excepting the daily workouts) it is quite alarming-

    No one is alarmed, yet everything down to the time we evacuate our bowels, take a shower, make love, every tiny detail, is easily knowable by Gov.

    We are in big big trouble if Techdirt writers have also lost perspective on what the current status of technology and society is.

    Example: In most of our USA society, if you are single, male, disabled, even a veteran, you can first spend a decade trying to get help from USA while you starve. The USA does not have a program for us unless we are female, or a child (veterans under 18 and disabled, very few existing, are covered with public and other benefits very well) but a grown man is just plain screwed.

    Not your fault, Techdirt, its getting too complicated to sense where we presently are sociologically because we all are on semi-independent squirrel cages of activity, never looking across anymore at our contemporaries.

    Thank you regardless of the sad state of reporting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Paul`, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 8:39pm

    As someone mentioned above, how long untill someone gains access to the billboards and just starts posting their own shit on them?

    Ahwell, it's all for the good of the country, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Wisk, Jan 3rd, 2008 @ 11:02am

    How long until they claim 'the billboard thing worked wonders' and then say... hmmmmmmmmmmm

    what if we could simply turn on and activate everyone's webcams without anyone knowing (hijacking a webcam can be done) to take a peek in everyone's homes for the criminal without them even knowing!

    C'mon, its to SAVE the CHILDREN ! ! !

    I MEAN, you do know that there are already mic's in your computer that haven't been turned on to one day listen in on your household and then pop up google adds on your screen based on the candid conversations you have at home!

    Microsoft and Google are just waiting for a way to integrate an EULA to hide the "activate microphone listening" button... of course you won't read the EULA and simply click on accept and BAM! you are now wondering how this ever happened.

    Well, Dell currently installs LOJack and these microphones on every computer made. Luckily, they are delivered with these tracking and monitoring systems in the OFF positions.

    google it and see for yourself!

    BB's are a way to desensitize you!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Mikyo, Feb 9th, 2008 @ 2:43am

    Don't worry baby. It will be alright. I'll turn on the nightlight. Leave your closet door open. Don't forget to check under the bed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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