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Can Big Data Take a Bite Out of Local Crime?

by Fox Van Allen on October 16, 2013

Data PrivacyToday, it seems like eyes are everywhere. The government is monitoring your email inbox (and pretty much everywhere else on the internet, too). Private companies are tracking your vehicle’s location and selling the information to the highest bidders. And, of course, law enforcement now has the legal right to track your physical location via your cell phone without any warrant required.

But the city of Oakland, California is taking government surveillance to a new level. Over the last couple years, the city has been installing a network of gunshot sound detectors, video surveillance cameras, traffic cameras, thermal cameras, radiation detectors and license plate readers to help fight against crime and terrorism. Now, through a $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Oakland is in the process of launching the Domain Awareness Center (DAC), a facility that will analyze data from these sources in real time, funneling information back to the cops.

A New York Times report on the DAC explains how the network of 1,000+ sensors and cameras works to solve crimes. “For example, if two men were caught on camera at the port stealing goods and driving off in a black Honda sedan, Oakland authorities could look up where in the city the car had been in the last several weeks. That could include stoplights it drove past each morning and whether it regularly went to see Oakland A’s baseball games.”

Naturally, there are major privacy concerns about the new initiative, since no court warrant is required to collect or analyze the data. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California opposes Oakland’s effort, calling it a violation of constitutional privacy rights. Specifically, an ACLU blog entry criticizes DAC for “indefinitely retain(ing) video and other data, and allow(ing) it to be shared.”

Of course, the DAC only tracks crimes and activity in Oakland, but it’s just one of many similar efforts being launched by cities around the country. Indeed, with modern advances in facial recognition technology and data analysis, getting away with a crime may very well become downright impossible. Unfortunately, that means doing anything without the government knowing about it might become impossible too – if that isn’t already the case.


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