March 22, 2016 - Justin Jouvenal

March 22, 2016
Justin Jouvenal

Here’s the great thing about capitalism: the entrepreneurs who drive the system are a great well-spring of new ideas, new products, with new capabilities that can improve many different kinds of services, including essential services provided by government.

Here’s the bad thing about that: when any of those services are called into question by the public, the entrepreneur can stonewall those questions by claiming the answers involve “trade secrets.”

And now here’s the example that drives today’s Here & There, a crime-fighting program called BEWARE, which collects all kinds of data from public sources like police and court records, credit and purchase records, cell phone and social media surveillance, and instantaneously transmits them to law enforcement agencies.

If that was all BEWARE did, it would still be controversial, but BEWARE doesn’t just collect or collate data, it makes judgments from them, judgments like whether a suspect or a building at an address is likely to present police officers with no, or a bit of, or potentially serious problems, or as the BEWARE program codes them, green, yellow or red targets.

Red targets are likely to get more cautious treatment by responding officers, and they may be more likely to get more forceful treatment if caution doesn’t produce the desired results.

So how does the BEWARE program make that judgment…do the person police are seeking, or the place they may want to enter code as green, yellow or red.  Intrada, the company behind BEWARE won’t say.  They say to do so would be to reveal valuable “trade secrets.”

So how much proprietary protection are private companies due, when they sell to public entities…like, say the Police Departments of Fresno, CA or Bellingham, WA?  Well, actually Intrada didn’t sell BEWARE to Bellingham because the city Council wanted more answers to questions about invasion-of-privacy as well as putting-predictive-labels-on-still-legally-innocent citizens.

Our guest today, reporter Justin Jouvenal of the Washington Post, wrote a widely-discussed article last month about how the Fresno PD has been absorbing several new surveillance technologies of which BEWARE is only one which has become controversial.

Reading Room

“The new way police are surveilling you: Calculating your threat ‘score'” – The Washington Post

“Cops scan social media to help assess your ‘threat-rating'” – Reuters

“A Police Department’s Secret Formula for Judging Danger” – The Atlantic

“Police secretly track cellphones to solve routine crimes” – USA Today

“Meet Joe Simitian, Silicon Valley’s surveillance technology watchdog” – The Guardian

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