In Commons Lab, Crowdsourcing, Disaster Management, Foresight, Technology and the Law on April 22, 2013 at 2:02 pm
During last week’s frenzied pursuit of suspects after the Boston Marathon bombings, we commented on the danger of attempting to crowdsource a criminal investigation. After Friday’s arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, new information on how law enforcement located the suspect has shed light on the process. Despite good intentions, intelligence analysis of this type is a poor fit for untrained amateurs. From the Washington Post:
[T]he social media revolution meant that the FBI and Boston authorities were under intense pressure to move even faster, because thousands of amateur sleuths were mimicking the official investigation, inspecting digital images of the crowd on Boylston Street and making their own often wildly irresponsible conclusions about who might be the bombers.
On an investigative forum of Reddit.com, since removed from the site, users compiled thousands of photos, studied them for suspicious backpacks and sent their favorite theories spinning out into the wider Internet.
“Find people carrying black bags,” wrote the Reddit forum’s unnamed moderator. “If they look suspicious, then post them. Then people will try and follow their movements using all the images.”
The moderator defended this strategy by arguing that “it’s been proven that a crowd of thousands can do things like this much quicker and better. . . . I’d take thousands of people over a select few very smart investigators any day.”
In addition to being almost universally wrong, the theories developed via social mediacomplicated the official investigation, according to law enforcement officials. Those officials said Saturday that the decision on Thursday to release photos of the two men in baseball caps was meant in part to limit the damage being done to people who were wrongly being targeted as suspects in the news media and on the Internet.
Fortunately, the suspect was apprehended and critiques of Reddit’s investigative techniques were swift and emphatic. But this could have easily gone much worse. This experience provides an example of where the wisdom of the crowd can be anything but wise.
In Commons Lab, Disaster Management, News and Events on June 13, 2012 at 11:02 am
The Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) at Fordham Law School and the Commons Lab of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars are pleased to announce a joint project on privacy and information systems that are being developed to assist efforts to locate missing persons during natural disasters.
The Privacy and Missing Persons in Natural Disasters Project is part of an international effort led by the Missing Persons Community of Interest (MPCI) that is unifying a wide array of databases and technologies to enhance searches for missing persons following natural disasters. MPCI, which emerged in response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, includes participants from local disaster management, international humanitarian relief organizations, private sector technology companies, non-profits, and digital volunteer communities.
The Project will evaluate the privacy challenges presented by MPCI’s efforts, such as protecting sensitive information provided to locate a missing person and compliance issues related to privacy laws. Fordham’s CLIP will propose strategies and recommendations to help MPCI reduce the risk of privacy infringement and protect the safety and well-being of affected individuals, while maintaining the efficacy of missing persons’ registries.
“Fordham Law School is extremely proud that the Wilson Center has formed this partnership with the Law School’s Center on Law and Information Policy,” said Michael M. Martin, Dean of Fordham Law. “CLIP is consistently at the forefront of information law, and its project with the Missing Persons Community of Interest nobly incorporates CLIP’s legal prowess with Fordham Law’s mission of practicing law ‘in the service of others.’” Read the rest of this entry »
In Commons Lab, Disaster Management, Foresight, Governance on May 31, 2012 at 10:36 am
What do data standards, cellphone cameras, and Twitter have to do with saving lives during a large-scale catastrophe? They can make all the difference. These were among a few of the topics discussed at the Research & Experimentation for Local & International Emergency First-Responders (RELIEF) event at National Defense University last week, which I had the pleasure of attending.
RELIEF, a program jointly run by the Naval Postgraduate School and the Center for Technology & National Security Policy, brings together representatives from dozens of organizations and government agencies to collaborate on cutting-edge research. Prior RELIEF events have come away with such outcomes as a method to capture and disseminate text messages over a broad area, tools to convert military satellite imagery into formats useable by civilian software, and a strategy for open-source mapping that went on to be used during elections in Afghanistan.
This quarter’s event focused on the growing trend of crisismapping – the technical merging of interactive online maps with social media and mobile technology, to create a living “picture” of a crisis zone – and the difficulties involved in its implementation. The participants included representatives from myriad government entities, including Department of State, Department of Defense (DoD), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), humanitarian mapping groups, industry, think tanks, and academia, which brought their diverse viewpoints to the table. As expected, the event covered a lot of ground in each session, but there were a number of key takeaway points that I will try to highlight.
Civil Air Patrol
Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a volunteer auxiliary arm of the US Air Force comprised of civilian pilots, has long been used in emergency management to identify survivors and take aerial reconnaissance photos for crisis command. Event participants discussed CAP’s ability to contribute to crisismapping by being able to provide photos of affected areas that land crews cannot access, ultimately giving crisis command a clearer picture of the situation and information about where to deploy emergency response teams. The discussion was coupled with a scenario analysis of a simultaneous earthquake, fire, and chemical gas release in an urban area—a realistic situation that demonstrates both immediate and developing hazards, each with unique conditions to worry about—as a test case for CAP’s utility. Read the rest of this entry »