Some police departments are now using predictive software that allows them to monitor and track people based on individual, computer-generated “threat scores.”
A “threat score” can be thought of as law enforcement’s version of a credit score. However, whereas credit scores are used to assess your financial risk to creditors; threat scores measure your personal danger risk for police officers.
One of the new computer programs that measures threat scores is called Beware. Beware is a predictive software program from a company called Intrado.
Beware is capable of analyzing billions of data sources to assign threat scores to individuals as well as residential addresses. Beware pulls large amounts of personal information from public records, private consumer databases as well as the internet. Some of the data sources that Beware uses to measure individual and household threat scores includes: criminal records, civil records, property records, social media activity, consumer marketing data as well as personal information found on deep web search engines.
Beware takes all of this personal information and runs it through a predictive algorithm to assign one of three color-coded threat levels to people and households. A green threat level on the Beware system is considered the least dangerous. Yellow is considered a mid-level threat; while red is reserved for the most dangerous threat level on the Beware system.
When police respond to any reported incident at a given address, the Beware system automatically calculates the threat level for every person who is known to reside at the address along with an overall threat level for the address itself.
Intrado does not discuss how their Beware software calculates and assigns threat scores to people and addresses. The algorithm they use is a closely-guarded company secret. So it is not known how different types of personal information like misdemeanors, felonies and social media activity is weighed in the calculations.
The Intrado website site says that the Beware system can be used through any desktop or mobile web browser with an internet connection. Beware searches, sorts and rates billions of personal records in seconds and warns 9-1-1 emergency responders about potentially dangerous people or situations at the location.
Police departments claim that these threat scores give them valuable insights when deciding on how to deal with unknown circumstances and potentially dangerous situations. They also say that this detailed personal information has helped them stop potential crimes as well as find suspects and solve existing criminal cases.
However, privacy advocates worry that the use of this new tool lacks public oversight and gives police too much power to look into a person’s personal details without any legal accountability. In addition, there are serious questions about the accuracy and reliability of Beware’s threat rating system.
Fresno, California is one of a handful of U.S. cities where the police are using Beware as part of their Real Time Crime Center. A recent demonstration of the Beware system in front of the Fresno City Council revealed at least one major flaw with the service.
During the demonstration, Fresno City Council Member Clinton Olivier asked the Fresno Police Chief, Jerry Dyer, to search for the councilman’s threat score on Beware. To the surprise of everyone at the demo, the threat score for Olivier’s home address showed up as yellow even though his own personal threat score was only green.
The only explanation offered for this glaring discrepancy in threat levels was that the yellow threat level for the home address could be due to someone who lived at Olivier’s address in the past. However, this explanation did not impress Olivier, who said that the Beware system failed right in front of them with just one real-world example.
Almost all police departments in the U.S. currently use some type of high tech surveillance tools. These tools can include social media monitoring, license plate scanners, Stingray cellphone monitors, drones, biometric devices, real-time crime monitoring or other predictive systems like Intrado’s Beware.
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