April, 2018

Predictive Policing Technology Secretly
Used in New Orleans

A recent report states that the New Orleans Police Department secretly used predictive technology created by Palantir Technologies in an effort to crack down on gang-crimes. New Orleans’ police and Palantir, a data-mining firm, partnered in 2012 through efforts of James Carville, former strategist and adviser to President Bill Clinton, who stated that Palantir was looking for “pro bono” opportunities and a “philanthropic” arrangement between Palantir and New Orleans was established. “No one in New Orleans even knows about this, to my knowledge,” Carville was quoted as saying.  Mr. Carville also said, “We were able to, at no cost to the city, start integrating data and predict and intervene as to where these conflicts were going to be arising. We’ve seen probably a third of a reduction in our murder rate since this project started.” Because the arrangement was “philanthropic,” usual disclosure requirements and public procurement processes were avoided. Only the mayor, the police, and the city attorney were aware of the arrangement; the city council members were not informed, and most civil rights and criminal defense attorneys did not know the technology was being used.

In a trial of an alleged gang-member in New Orleans in 2013, the AI software was used to trace “people’s ties to other gang members, outlined criminal histories, analyzed social media, and predicted the likelihood that individuals would commit violence or become a victim,” but there was no reference in the 60,000 pages of discovery materials turned over to the defense to Palantir or to the software having been used by New Orleans’ police.

Palantir had access to New Orleans’ law enforcement LexisNexis account and free access to the city’s criminal and non-criminal data. According to a recent article, the data-gathering process involves “social network analysis (or SNA) to draw connections between people, places, cars, weapons, addresses, social media posts, and other indicia in previously siloed databases,” as well as police criminal databases containing data on “ballistics, gangs, probation and parole information, jailhouse phone calls, calls for service, the central case management system (i.e., every case NOPD had on record), and the department’s repository of field interview cards. The latter database represents every documented encounter NOPD has with citizens, even those that don’t result in arrests.” New Orleans’ police prepared 70,000 field interview cards in 2011 and 2012.

Critics of predictive-policing, such as that used in New Orleans and elsewhere, contend that the programs have a disparate impact on, and perpetuate systemic bias against, poor communities of color, and critics contend that historical crime data was not an accurate predictor of future criminal activity.

Sources: Ali Winston, “Palantir has secretly been using New Orleans to test its predictive policing technology,” theverge.com, February 27, 2018:
Noah Feldman, “The Future of Policing Is Being Hashed Out in Secret,” bloomberg.com, February 28, 2018:

Mobile Driver’s Licenses Tested

The State of Delaware is initiating a six-month pilot-program, involving about 200 participants, to test “mobile driver’s licenses,” which are encrypted apps in a participant’s smartphone. The mobile license can provide, among other things, better security – the app can only be accessed by the holder – and enhanced privacy for age verification, according to the state’s report. Also, a law enforcement officer can “ping” the holder’s phone and request driver license data prior to approaching a stopped vehicle.

Source: Jerry Smith, “Mobile license pilot study to allow police to ‘ping’ cellphone for a license,” delawareonline.com, March 13, 2018:

ICE and License Plate Readers

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is now utilizing a nationwide license plate database as one tool in its efforts to locate fugitive aliens, following on testing beginning in 2012. The database, from Vigilant Solutions, has billions of license-plate photos – compiled from private and local law enforcement camera-mounted vehicles – that can be searched in real-time. Historical searches can yield data on a license-plate for a period of five years, and “hot list” data can be provided in real-time. The ICE vehicles will not collect, upload, or store any data itself.

Sources: Russell Brandom, “Exclusive: ICE is about to start tracking license plates across the US,” theverge.com, January 26, 2018:
“How DHS is using license-plate information,” washingtonpost.com, [undated]:

Raleigh, NC Police Get Help from Google

Police in Raleigh, North Carolina, secured search warrants in four cases in 2017 compelling Google to turn over data from mobile devices from anyone who had been near crime-scenes being investigated. City and county officials consider the technique a natural evolution of criminal investigations, but defense attorneys and others worry about such mass-data-gathering from non-suspects. Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, was quoted as saying, “From an average smartphone user’s perspective, it’s a little surprising once you start to learn the full scope of information about our locations and whereabouts and activities that companies like Google hold.” Jonathan Jones, a former prosecutor in North Carolina, noted that people share a lot of information with Google and asked, “But do people understand that in sharing that information with Google, they’re also potentially sharing it with law enforcement?”

The North Carolina search warrants differed from more standard, specific warrants for data on a suspect, due to the broader scope involved. For example, in one warrant, a 17-acre area that included businesses, multi-unit apartments, and other residences was the area described and included not just Google-devices, but any device running a location-enabled Google app. In another search warrant, relating to an arson fire in an area near heavily-trafficked bars, restaurants, and apartments, the warrant sought information – anonymized numerical identifiers and real-time stamped location coordinates for every device in that area – on all Google account IDs present over a two and one-half hour period, even though there was no evidence the arsonist had a cellphone.

Source: Tyler Dukes, “To find suspects, police quietly turn to Google,” wral.com, March 15, 2018:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor