Police Are Using Your Social Media Profiles to Calculate "Crime Scores"

January 13th 2016

Taylor Bell

The police are coming up with new ways to keep tabs on the public. Thanks to a new software, investigators can now go through all your social media posts and calculate just how much of a threat you are to law enforcement, MTV News reports.

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The Fresno Police Department is the first to test and use Beware, a software program that allows police to comb through billions of personal data, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, internet searches and social media postings according to the Washington Post. Not only that, but the software computes and assigns a threat score for each person.

How it works

Intrado, the company who designed Beware, refused to say what exactly goes into calculating someone's threat score. But the software does flag certain words on social media posts and notifies police.

Police dashboard

Beware is designed to help police understand how much danger they might be walking into when they arrive on an emergency scene. Instead of walking in blindly, the software updates officers with information about who and what they might be dealing with.

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"Oftentimes, when a call comes in to dispatch, we have minimal information provided to us and so our officers are driving into the scene expecting to known the unknown and then to make these split-second decisions with limited facts," Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer told ABC 30 Action News. This is where the information from Beware comes in handy.

Police officials have said that the software allows them "to do more with less" and have credited the technology for "providing breaks in many cases," the Washington Post reports.

But there are some critics.

While some praise this technology, others think that the software is not reliable and a bit too intrusive.

Jay Stanley, a Senior Policy Analyst for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, told MTV News that the "that the algorithms used to scan social media often work by keyword" and thus, can easily be taken out of context.

“Computers are good at a lot of things but interpreting human conversations and dissecting posts to determine whether someone is ’dangerous’ is not something that can be automated. The use of keywords is highly unreliable because key words without context are meaningless — they might be used ironically; violent terms might be referring to the title of a novel, song lyrics or a video game; or you might be quoting someone else.”

And that's exactly what happened to one woman. She had her threat level raised after police found that she was tweeting about a card game called "Rage," ABC 30 Action News reports.

Fresno civil rights attorney Robert Navarro also believes that Beware could lead police to unfairly judge people.

"(Members of the public) want the person to actually know them and not to depend on some computer algorithm, some data mining process," Navarro told ABC 30 Action News.

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The Washington Post reports that technological surveillance increased more than 90 percent in 2013. And although the most common forms of surveillance include cameras and automated license plate readers, "the use of handheld biometric scanners, social media monitoring software, devices that collect cell phone data and drones are increasing."