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


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  1. identicon
    Sad so sad, 31 Dec 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.

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