Imagine the following scenario: You are on your way home from work, driving down the road when you notice police lights in your rearview mirror. You are being pulled over.
As you sit there, on the shoulder, adrenaline rushing, simultaneously angry and nervous, the police officer, in his patrol car behind you, is sizing you up based on an algorithm that determines your “threat rating.”
The officer enters your license plate into a mobile application on his laptop. In a matter of seconds, this application crawls over billions of records in commercial and public databases, including all available social media engagement, recent purchases and “any comments that could be construed as offensive.” The application then determines if your “threat rating” is green, yellow, or red.
Imagine that you are one of our informed and frequent readers and understand the importance of police accountability and are unafraid to voice your entirely peaceful, yet strong opinion about police misconduct. Imagine that you left a comment on Facebook this morning about a particular officer’s misconduct; imagine that it is this particular officer who just pulled you over.
Your rating just came back red.
Up until this point, you have never committed a crime, you have never been violent, you have never even so much as run a stop sign. However, this police officer now knows that you made a comment about him punching the (insert handcuffed and helpless victim example here) on Facebook, and he literally sees red–your threat rating.
What happens next? Does a routine traffic stop for driving 10 miles over the speed limit morph into a situation in which you now have a Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm pistol with Streamlight TLR-2s laser site being aimed just above your left ear?
Do you receive multiple erroneous citations because this officer now has access to your personal life? Do you get cited where the officer would have otherwise let someone else go?
Or, maybe you are a cop or a judge, or the mayor, but this application confuses you with someone else and marks you as “red,” then what? What if you are driving someone else’s car?
The reality is that any number of unimaginable things can and would happen next. And now, thanks to an especially ominous product, by a company named Intrado, and the Orwellian nature of police in this country, those extraordinary situations are now a reality.
Intrado is one of many corporations thriving here in the US, from the creation and growth of the police industrial complex. The hypothetical “application” mentioned in the above scenario is a real product of Intrado, called Beware. Police departments nationwide have been purchasing and using this application since 2012.
Intrado is one of many companies who cater to the police state, giving police these ostensibly helpful tools that actually erode civil rights and leave an enormous opening for corruption and abuse.
Private companies are currently, and have been, acquiring large portions of your tax dollars from federal grants to be used to build and implement certain “Pre-crime” technologies.
In a society that claims justice to be blind, how does judging someone on what they might do fit into the idea of freedom? The answer to that question is simple; it doesn’t.
Even if these “threat ratings” showed a statistical correlation to actually lower some instances of crime, which we have not seen, it’s not the right way to go about policing a people. Reason Magazine’s Peter Suderman sums this logic up quite eloquently:
By a roughly similar logic, we could lock up everyone—or even just everyone with the right risk profile, regardless of what crimes they have or have not already committed—from a high crime neighborhood, and call it a success when crime goes down.
This “surveillance grid” does little to nothing to protect society from a rogue criminal. What is does do, however, is protect the government by deeming large groups of people an enemy of the state; regardless of whether or not the individuals in these arbitrary groups are peaceful or have committed a crime.
A report this week out of the Washington Post drew attention to Fresno, California, whose use of this technology has raised serious concerns.
Councilman Clinton J. Olivier, a libertarian-leaning Republican, said Beware was like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel and asked Fresno Chief of Police Jerry Dyer a simple question: “Could you run my threat level now?”
Dyer agreed. The scan returned Olivier as a green, but his home came back as a yellow, possibly because of someone who previously lived at his address, a police official said.
“Even though it’s not me that’s the yellow guy, your officers are going to treat whoever comes out of that house in his boxer shorts as the yellow guy,” Olivier said. “That may not be fair to me.”
The Fresno police department, along with their use of Beware, has dozens of monitors plastering the walls of their threat center that display feeds from the hundreds of cameras police have placed across the city. If those cameras don’t show enough, the police can then tap into 800 more feeds from the school and traffic cameras, as well as the future streaming of hundreds of officer body cams. As if this wasn’t enough, police will soon have access to the thousands of private cameras used by local businesses. It’s as if they are using 1984 as an instruction manual.
As what point does this dystopian surveillance grid growth begin to slow — when we all have permanently attached shock collars that police can use to “lock down” the town in the event of a ‘threat’?
If the idea of shock collars sounds ridiculous, just remember that prior to 9-11, the idea of spying on Americans in such a manner that is accepted now, was not only shunned, it was illegal.
The good news is that people are informing themselves about these insane police state measures and are resisting them.
After the citizens expressed their outrage over Beware’s threat rating system, Fresno Chief of Police Jerry Dyer, said he now wants to make changes to address resident’s concerns, according to the Post. Dyer claims that they are working to get the color-coded rating system, and the social media spying disabled.
Fresno is not alone in their outrage either; we’ve already seen well-informed communities stop their police departments from obtaining such equipment. The city council of Bellingham, Washington, rejected a proposed purchase of the Beware “threat rating” system in 2014.
Despite the Bellingham police department receiving a $25,000 federal grant to cover some of the $36,000 annual cost of Beware, the citizens still said “nay.” At a mandatory hearing about the purchase from Intrado, Bellingham citizens discovered how Beware worked and opposed the purchase.
Only through a lesser ignorance and peaceful resistance will the police state be stopped.