A World Under Surveillance
by Karina Le | published Dec. 25th, 2021
Over the years, the advancement of technology has helped civilization extensively. However, with every pro, there will be cons to said improvement. One such advancement would be the rate at which surveillance has permeated everyday life.
From supermarkets to college campus parking lots, there are cameras everywhere. Even more so, people’s data and preferences are recorded on sites like Facebook to send targeted ads to them. A lesser-known use for surveillance systems and technology is real-time crime statistics. The Monroe Crime Analysis Center (MCAC) located here in Rochester has been using this technology since it opened in 2007.
Real-time crime centers were initially created as a means to support officers on the field, both patrol and detectives alike, providing ‘real-time’ information about individuals involved with a crime — such as finding information on a stabbing victim to figure out who in their circle of acquaintances may have committed the crime against them.
RIT also provides MCAC assistance in terms of management and training.
Irshad Altheimer, a professor of Criminal Justice at RIT, operates as the director of RIT’s Public Safety Initiative.
“We provide technical assistance about the best practices of crime analysis,” Altheimer said. “We also serve as research partners with these criminal justice agencies.”
Crime centers have since developed exponentially with the help of advanced technologies. In terms of RIT’s involvement with these projects, RIT staff mainly serves on the research side of the topic, such as studying different criminal justice interventions.
The reason why crime centers need extensive collection through various cases is also in part for their use in pattern making for crimes. Consider it as a census for crimes within the area, for instance.
“The idea behind [crime centers] is to bring together all of the information that exists into one centralized location,” Altheimer said.
By bringing together all information about the crimes occurring within a city like Rochester, centers can find common areas of crime and have higher alerts within that area through traffic cameras or various live feeds around the city.By bringing together all information about the crimes occurring within a city like Rochester, centers can find common areas of crime and have higher alerts within that area through traffic cameras or various live feeds around the city.
In gathering personal information about the victims — who they are commonly with or if they have negative associations with people — it could help with narrowing down suspects and save precious time on time-essential cases.
However, there are concerns that arise in the usage of surveillance technologies like the ones MCAC employs. Especially with data centers, which collect and store personal information and are manned by human resources, they toe a very thin line in ensuring people’s rights to their privacy.
Safeguards and Protections
“Technology can be used for good and bad,” Altheimer said. “Some common concerns for [crime centers] is to what extent can we ensure that data is protected and not misused.”
“Technology can be used for good and bad ... Some common concerns for [crime centers] is to what extent can we ensure that data is protected and not misused.”
Despite some concerns about the government collecting information and misusing said information, there are merits and good reasons to collect it. Altheimer asserts that the potential for data misuse is outweighed by the fact that there are safeguards in place to prevent said misuses.
“When we talk about crime centers, some central questions is how can we protect data, and how can we prevent it from being misused,” Altheimer said.
One of the major concerns being debated right now is how long should centers retain data and personal information throughout an investigation. From this, one of the main safeguards in keeping this data is the responsibility of the workers. If employees of the crime centers do release some of the private messages kept in these centers, they could risk their job or be held in a court of law.
“There has to be vigilance and there has to be rules [to protect citizens],” Altheimer emphasized.
These rules are upheld nationally by the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysis, along with the various ethics and rules each crime analysis center has to abide by to continue operation.
There is still a terrifying aspect of surveillance technology. For instance, the New York City's Crime Center utilizes satellite imaging and mapping of the city to track crimes throughout its various precincts. If a New York City police officer could start a call, for instance, satellite tracking can follow their exact location throughout the city — even through tunnels.
Some would even say that the current surveillance state may lead to the normalcy of being watched. Although there are safeguards for organizations to protect the information they obtain, secret government organizations do not abide by the same rules. These projects cannot be challenged in the same way as crime centers, for instance, under the protection of several laws, such as the USA/Patriot Act. That particular law allows government agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to be able to surveillance someone so long as there is "reasonable suspicion" that a person or event is related to crime.
For a regular citizen, it can feel like a lot of the government decisions are out of their hands. However, the most important tool a regular citizen has is their voice and being able to keep track of Senate and House decisions through the worldwide web. These can lead to further actions in lobbying, or even voting for a representative that will be vocal on their decisions in these particular areas.
“I think we should continue the discussion as a society,” Altheimer said. “It’s important for citizens to stay engaged ... we should advocate for an environment that these discussions can be openly had.”
“It’s important for citizens to stay engaged … we should advocate for an environment that these discussions can be openly had.”
Just because a service is made with good intentions, does not necessarily mean we, the people, should not question its implementation. To be able to engage in these discussions is one of the most valued rights American citizens should exercise, and having these open discussions can further help with positive development between both technology and the society it is used in.