...In 2015, on the front lines of predictive policing, officers are now using an algorithm to scrub up the world's social media posts, map them out and use them to predict where crime is most likely to occur. And a new class of tech startups aims to take the wide world of public social media posts and turn them into a living map that will direct police toward crime before it even happens.
Pre-crime maps help police predict crime as if it were the weather. Every day, police precincts in major metropolitan cities generate maps that show them where certain types of crime are likely occur in various "hot spots" around the city.
Some of these mapping systems rely on historical crime data and won't go anywhere near social media. Larry Samuels, CEO of popular predictive crime mapping tool PredPol, told Mic that using social media is a line he's unwilling to cross. It's a veritable Pandora's box, he said, introducing chaotic variables that haven't been empirically proven enough to justify using it.
"Philosophically, the people who run this company have very strong beliefs about not crossing that line, and about constitutionality — being what we are and nothing more," Samuels told Mic.
But newer systems like Hitachi's Visualization Predictive Crime Analytics include social media data like public tweets. Hitachi's system takes a look at geotagged tweets to find terms in common and link them to increased crime.
So if there's known gang activity in an area, the algorithm sweeps through public tweets to find terms, vernacular, and "off-topic" words to give more weight to a hotspot. But using a pattern of speech as a pretext for enhanced policing is a algorithmic way to group people by common characteristics, casting guilt by style of speech or even association.
"You have public functions being conducted by private companies without public oversight or transparency, with vast implications for constitutional rights."
Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice public policy institute, told Mic, "Even if it is all 'gang-related,' what does it mean to feed in information that says, 'We know that Person A is a member of a gang, and they exchange tweets with person B?' Are we going to put Person B under surveillance or keep an eye on them?" To her, the question is, "To what extent is there oversight of how that circle of surveillance grows?"
Using social media to decide who is or isn't a criminal opens up the door for prejudicial police profiling.