I originally penned this article for the Community Alliance after the Fresno Police implemented Beware by Intrado into their daily police routine. The idea that our speech could be used to elevate an arbitrary threat rating was entirely unacceptable to me.
Fresno is the fifth largest and the fastest growing city in California. Combine that with being located in the Central Valley, add a diverse and multicultural population, and Fresno is the perfect test market for a plethora of products. This time, instead of the new Modelo Light beer, or Taco Bell’s “Waffle Taco,” it is a new law enforcement technology called Beware. Beware is designed by Intrado to compile information on people, using social media posts and comments, criminal history and other data that is available through commercial sales of your information.
Similar to the way that a credit check compiles data, Beware browses millions of records from social media, online comments and recent purchases. This all comes from commercial or public databases that it then assesses and compiles into profiles that are sent to the responding law enforcement officer, as well as an assigned threat rating of “red,” “yellow” or “green.” Anything online interpreted as offensive will add to the threat rating. Unlike a credit report that someone can access and make changes to, the Beware app has no such feature at this time.
Working off just an address the officer will know the following:
- Who lives there
- Cell phone numbers
- Prior criminal history
- Registered vehicles
Intrado describes Beware as a program that is “accessed through any browser (fixed or mobile) on any Internet-enabled device including tablets, smartphones, and laptop and desktop computers. Beware® from Intrado searches, sorts and scores billions of publicly available commercial records in a matter of seconds—alerting responders to potentially dangerous situations while in route to, or at the location of, a 9-1-1 request for assistance.” Basically, it’s a program that profiles people based on their opinions, assigns them a threat rating and then provides responding officers with information that is supposed to make them safer but will, in reality, only make them more apprehensive and more likely to take shortcuts that will result in mistakes. Only perpetuating mistake that may lead to more senseless police violence in our communities.
If you post using the hashtag #ShootCops, that will elevate your threat level but anti–law enforcement or government posts are not all that are included in this calculation. The name of the games you play on Facebook can also add to your threat rating, as well as, online purchases.
The Fresno Police Department will use Beware for 18 months in order to test Beware, and the information will be used to implement its use in other police departments. Although this technology is new to Fresno, it is not something new to the world of law enforcement. The average cost for the Beware program is $36,000 a year for the first five years totaling roughly $180,000.
Bellingham, Wash., rejected a proposal to implement Beware in its police department. That police department had applied for and received a $25,000 grant that would help cover the $36,000 anunal cost. At a mandatory hearing, the community found out how the program really worked, opposing it both on cost and privacy issues, and the funds were redirected. This rejection demonstrated the fact that modern policing techniques as well as the armored vehicles, body armor and assault rifles, combined with never-ending surveillance, do more to antagonize the average citizen than it does to protect them.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer weighed in on the new technology. He told ABC30 that “it doesn’t make them a criminal necessarily, some of those comments, but it certainly gives the officer an awareness that this person may have an antipolice sentiment and be an increasing level of threat to them.”
Dyer’s statement is an example of why we should be opposed to “Big Brother” technology like Beware. Police officers assuming that you are an “increased level of threat” to their personal safety because you like Cop Block or the Peaceful Streets Project or an opinion that counters the mainstream narrative on what the general public is supposed to think about cops will only place innocent people in danger and lead to more police violence, not less. This system is far from foolproof and, in my opinion, dangerous.
If not updated properly, a health and welfare check on a family member you are worried about could turn into a full SWAT raid. Another key point of contention is that it is unknown if race will play any part in the algorithm’s deduction of individuals who might be a threat to law enforcement.
This app might remind you of the movie Minority Report, where a “pre-crime” group used preventive policing measures that were so advanced they were able to prevent crimes from happening and arrest the perpetrator using “foreknowledge.” Or the book 1984, where everyone was under constant surveillance and “thought crimes,” or having socially controversial thoughts or beliefs that are in opposition to the ruling class, was punishable by death.
You might be in opposition to this new technology and should get involved in challenging it. Even if you aren’t interested in challenging it, you should still know what your neighborhood police are up to…
*Update the Dyer is working on having the threat color rating system and social media posts options disabled for the app.