Connecting state and local government leaders

Beyond Gadgets: Public Safety in a Digital World



Connecting state and local government leaders

In the lead-up to a discussion on public safety data, our senior director of programs is obsessed with our digital footprint, and its implications for police and citizens.

My digital fingerprints are everywhere, building a very clear story of my every move. I’ve been thinking about this a bit obsessively lately in the lead up to a live-stream panel on public safety in a digital world Route Fifty will be hosting this Thursday, Dec. 14, 1:30-2:30 p.m. ET.

Just for example, today I woke up and reached for my phone. It takes a guess at what times I slept between and asks me if this is correct. I throw on some clothes and head to Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries. I text my wife to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. As I walk, my cell phone is pinging off cell towers, logging where I am. I walk past a municipal building that has connected cameras. I also know the intersection has a camera that snaps pictures of license plates.

Good thing I paid for everything at Trader Joe’s!

If I hadn’t paid, what should the police be able to know about my digital footprint? Should they be able to know my movements via cell phone data?  What about my phone’s knowledge about how long I slept? Should police be required to have a warrant to know all this?

What if they find out about my cookie-butter caper years later; should they have not deleted those videos from the municipal building? And, what if a citizen wants access to video of my monstrous “Joe’s O’s” spree—should they be able to access those municipal building videos of the crime? Should they be able to release it on the internet?

I swear, Trader Joe’s, this is theoretical; I could never cross you. And, sure, no one is going to start a digital dragnet for a single shoplift—but that’s not the case with more serious issues. In fact, right now the U.S. Supreme Court is looking to weigh in on where the Fourth Amendment right to privacy ends in the digital world in relation to a series of armed robberies.

The issue doesn’t end with third-party data on individuals suspected of a crime—that’s where it begins. Police-collected data raises issues, as well.

When responding to a report of domestic violence, should a police officer have on his body-worn camera when entering a house? Who has a right to tell them to keep it on or turn it off? Who has a right to request access to that police video, and when? The suspected abuser? The victim? The press?

The questions about policing and data don’t end there. Just as vexing are the procedural and management questions that police forces need to ask themselves every day—even the fundamental basics of how to retain an exponentially growing storehouse of digital evidence.

Data has become a key factor in 21st century policing, but with the rapid pace of technological change, and our increasing dependency on a technological footprint to live in society, where does the private digital stream end and the greater public sea of data begin? How do police search for the proverbial “needle” in a haystack of data that is growing by terabytes every minute?

In some respects, our current laws and regulations aren’t equipped to answer these questions. Most federal laws around digital evidence were written before the internet became a modern phenomenon; with the rise of machine-human interaction, internet of things, sensors and more, it’s hard for state and local entities to build policies both thoughtfully and quickly enough to keep pace.

With an all-star team of public safety and legal officials, we’ll explore how this growing digital world is changing policing, as well as the perception of police-citizen interactions. Joining us will be Jim Emerson, who leads the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Computer Crime and Digital Evidence Committee; Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute; Bryan Porter, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Alexandria, Virginia; and, Lisa Soronen, Executive Director for the State and Local Legal Center.

From analytics to third-party data to encryption, we have a lot of ground to cover in what should be a great discussion.


We hope you’ll join us!

Mitch Herckis is the Senior Director of Programs at Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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