Police are Calculating Your ‘Threat Score’ to Decide How to Treat You

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Police are Calculating Your ‘Threat Score’ to Decide How to Treat You

Programs such as Beware scour billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and social media postings. (Photo: via Consumer Reports)

I watched a documentary about North Korea which explained how the government there assigns a score to each citizen, based on how large a threat to the regime s/he is perceived to be. When I lived in Taiwan under a military government years ago, such a number was encoded into every national ID card. Those citizens every interaction with the government and police force was shadowed by those scores.

Same as in 21st century post-Constitutional America.

Even as our nation learned more about how our daily lives are cataloged by the National Security Agency, a new generation of technology is being used by local law enforcement that offers them unprecedented power to peer into the lives of citizens. Ominously, software that is part of such systems, assigns each citizen monitored a Threat Score, allegedly to alert cops enroute to a crime scene of what to expect of the once-innocent-until-proven-guilty citizen they will encounter.

One such product is a software suite called Beware. On their website, the maker claims:

There are no such things as routine calls… Accessed through any browser (fixed or mobile) on any Internet-enabled device including tablets, smartphones, laptop and desktop computers, Beware® from Intrado searches, sorts and scores billions of publically-available commercial records in a matter of seconds – alerting responders to potentially dangerous situations while en route to, or at the location of, a 911 request for assistance.

Intrado Beware® is a tool to help first responders understand the nature of the environment they may encounter during the window of a 911 event.

Police officials say such tools can provide critical information that can help uncover terrorists or thwart mass shootings, though no such uncovering has ever happened.

Programs such as Beware scour billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and social media postings. One example is how authorities in Oregon are facing a civil rights investigation after using social media-monitoring software to keep tabs on persons using #BlackLivesMatter hashtags.

Does anyone expect that a police response to a citizen labeled at a “low threat” level will be as preloaded for disaster as one for a “high threat” person? What if that police response is based primarily on the free speech protected use of a hash tag?

I wonder if my score will change after this article. Or yours, for reading it.

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well. His new book is We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).

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