by Steve Watson
As police are vehemently lobbying Google to disable a function within a popular app that allows real time tracking of officers’ whereabouts, officers themselves are relying heavily on social media to surveil citizens and even assign ‘threat ratings’.
A popular GPS based app called Waze has come under fire from police groups as it allows drivers to pinpoint the location of cops and report police sightings to others on the road.
The app was purchased by Google in 2013, at a cost of $966 million. It can be used to alert drivers when they are about to encounter speed cameras and police vehicles, in order that they can avoid what many have described as revenue generating harassment at the hands of the authorities.
Police unions are now arguing that the technology is putting their officers at risk, particularly in the wake of increased attacks on officers following heightened publicity concerning cases of police brutality.
Bedford County, Virginia Sheriff Mike Brown spoke out against the app recently, dubbing it a “police stalker,” and claiming that “The police community needs to coordinate an effort to have the owner, Google, act like the responsible corporate citizen they have always been and remove this feature from the application even before any litigation or statutory action.”
Despite these claims, there is no evidence to suggest that the Waze app has been used in any attacks upon police whatsoever.
Waze spokesperson Julie Mossler has responded to the police backlash by urging that the cop-tracking feature in the app makes the roads more safe.
“These relationships keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion,” Mossler said.
Of course, when it comes to police using similar technology to track and monitor citizens, it’s an entirely different matter. Safety and privacy go out the window in such cases.
Most recently, it was revealed that police departments across the United States are now using a program that mines Internet comments and social media posts to determine the “threat score” of a suspect before cops arrive on the scene.
Reuters reports that law enforcement authorities have utilized an application called Beware since 2012 that takes just seconds to crawl billions of records in commercial and public databases to assign a threat rating to an individual – green, yellow or red.
“Yet it does far more — scanning the residents’ online comments, social media and recent purchases for warning signs. Commercial, criminal and social media information, including, as Intrado vice president Steve Reed said in an interview with urgentcomm.com, “any comments that could be construed as offensive,” all contribute to the threat score.”
In addition, it was revealed this week that The United States government, in the form of the Drug Enforcement Agency, is tracking the movement of millions of vehicles around the country in a clandestine intelligence-gathering program.
The program relies on license plate tracking technology, which has been used by police to monitor Americans for years.
Police have also recently complained about GPS technology being installed in their own vehicles to track their driving behavior. Again when police are the target of such surveillance technology, it seems to be a problem, but not when they are using it target Americans.