More Reasons to Watch Your Online Trail

We all have the experience every time we shop online.  Once we view or purchase an item on a particular website, ads for that site pop up everywhere we go online.  Online sellers are tracking our search habits so as to market and sell their merchandise.  We are, in fact, all being tracked online by companies like Amazon and Google that collect all kinds of information on users.  But retailers are not the only entities interested in collecting data from online sources.

“Predictive Policing” and “Precision Policing”, both of which include various data collection strategies, are being used increasingly by police departments around the country.  Generally speaking, the idea is to quantify, “data-fy” and control communities based upon the analysis of information collected online.  Sometimes, the information is purchased from data brokers.  However, law enforcement agencies are also developing their own internal collection systems.  For example, New York and Los Angeles continue to develop extensive gang databases.  In fact, Los Angeles has partnered with an entity called Palantir, whose technology has been utilized by the U.S. military and U.S. intelligence to track terrorists globally.  Much of the information is collected from social media including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and the like.  The data is used to track individuals and groups who are deemed “high risk”.

Further, improved technology continues to give law enforcement the ability to collect, analyze and collate data from multiple sources.  For example, New York City has approximately 9,000 linked surveillance cameras in Manhattan.  This network affords the police the opportunity to view almost every street in the borough.  Currently, the system can go back as far as one month, and can track individuals wearing unique clothing such as a hat or shirt with a particular insignia, as well as track the time or place that a particular car is driven through an area.  The Chicago Police Department is using something called a “Heat List” which grades how dangerous someone is using a threat score of 1 to 500.  When someone is pulled over in what may start as a routine traffic stop, a threat score appears on the officer’s dashboard computer, ostensibly giving the officer some idea of how to approach the subject.

Law enforcement has always been interested in collecting and analyzing data on individuals or particular groups.  But because of improvements in technology, the police can now search for fragments of license plate numbers, street names or tattoos with considerable efficiency.  All of this is affecting where the police patrol and whom they target, as well as virtually every other aspect of police-citizen encounters.

The “big data” approach to crime is not that new.  In fact, it started in the 1990s in New York City, when the police department started a program called “CompStat”, which was used to collect, maintain and analyze crime data.  However, with the growth of the Internet and improvements in technology, the ability to collect and analyze data, as well as the number of available data sources, has increased substantially.

All of this obviously means that law enforcement has an ever-increasing ability to monitor criminal activity, but it also gives defense attorneys increased sources of information to draw upon when defending clients.  Defense attorneys must be familiar with these new data collection techniques utilized in their respective jurisdictions, and tailor their discovery requests in particular cases accordingly.

James S. Friedman, Esq., is a criminal defense attorney in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  Mr. Friedman defends people with criminal charges in all New Jersey state courts, the New York State courts located in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the United States District Courts located in New Jersey and New York City.  If you or someone you know has been charged with an offense in one of these courts, call us to learn about your options.



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