HideTechdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.
HideTechdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

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.

Filed Under: billboards, criminals, crowdsourcing, fbi


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    methylamine, 31 Dec 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.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown for basic formatting. (HTML is not supported.)
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.