March 7, 2013 By Colin Wood
Nationwide, police departments are using predictive analytics to strategically deploy officers around their respective cities. A mobile app for citizens in Baltimore called SpotAgent, for instance, predicts whether a given parking spot might be safe from roaming parking enforcement officers at a given hour. And since 2006, Memphis, Tenn, has used the technology to evaluate incident patterns citywide and forecast criminal hot spots.
But security firm Raytheon is taking predictive analytics to the next level. While current technology, such as IBM’s predictive analytics solution, uses statistics and analytical data to predict criminal activity, Raytheon’s Rapid Information Overlay Technology (RIOT) software monitors public information on social media websites to predict what people will do next.
In early February, a promotional video explaining RIOT was made public, frightening most people who watched it – 81 percent of users on Newser.com tagged the news as “scary.” The video, which has since been removed from the Web, shows how “Nick,” a Raytheon employee, could be tracked using his social media history and how his future actions could be estimated based on past behavior. "So if you ever did want to try to get hold of Nick,” the video narrator says, “or maybe get hold of his laptop, you might want to visit the gym at 6 a.m. on a Monday."
Predictive policing is already in effect nationwide, but could adding such software to law enforcement's arsenal of tools enhance officers’ ability to do their jobs? And is such a technology truly acceptable in our society?
Though Raytheon doesn’t yet have a contract with any government entities for the software, the company has shown the software to some public-sector agencies – and according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), government’s interest in the software is typical.
However, EPIC Open Government Program Director Ginger McCall says the software likely isn't that useful. “It doesn't seem to me that there's that much useful application to most of this data,” she said. “It's one more step along this path we've been going down since Sept. 11, 2001, where the trend is to sweep in large amounts of information, to retain that information, even though most of the information is completely irrelevant.”
In rare circumstances, she said, the software might be useful if the government was using it to track a specific person. When Chris Dorner, a former officer for the Los Angeles Police Department and ex-U.S. Navy reservist, carried out a series of shooting attacks on police officers and their families from Feb. 3 through Feb. 12, 2013 – which left four people dead and three police officers wounded – he was the focus of one of the largest manhunts in LAPD history, spanning two U.S. states and Mexico, according to The Daily Mail.
It took nine days to find Dorner, who ultimately died during a stand-off with police at cabin in California’s San Bernardino Mountains. But what if RIOT software was used to track Dorner’s social media activity? According to a report on beforeitsnews.com, he posted to Facebook during the manhunt, but could his previous activity have given law enforcement some idea as to where he might hide?
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