Using Social networks and mobile devices for public risk reduction

Several months ago there was a very small earthquake nearby. We barely felt the building move, so just to verify that it wasn’t my imagination playing tricks on me, I logged into Facebook and pretty soon found out that some of my geographically close friends felt it as well. It took several more minutes for the news to propagate to the public media.

The fact that we all carry online personal terminals (aka smartphones) makes dealing with public safety a different business today. It is no longer the case of who will hear you shout in the dark. Time mobility pollsuggest that around 80% of the population feel safer because they know they can get help wherever they are.

Smartphone showing map and a pin pointing to location

Smartphone location

The interesting question is how can security and law enforcement agencies use those devices to better protect the citizens?

Actively following and monitoring citizen’s handsets is not a valid solution due the privacy restrictions, in spite of the obvious benefits of never getting out of site and sight of the officer in charge. Monitoring handsets anonymously is sometimes beneficial for recognizing suspicious patterns in physical space, like public unrest, speeding and crossing borders, yet it’s not dealing with the day to day overhead of dealing with complaints.

The alternative of dealing with citizen’s reports directly online, is equally unlikely since  reporting an offence would be too easy for the agency to validate at a reasonable effort. For example reporting a driving offence by one driver on another can be as easy as taking a picture and sharing it. However the overhead of checking that report would consume too much time from the already over burdened agency, and the risk of not dealing with a justified complaint would put decision makers in a deadlock.

We believe that most of the risk reduction in social network will be taken by the communities themselves. Whether by expelling misbehaving individuals and blocking their IDs, outing their illicit behavior by publishing  pictures from “the scene of crime” and reporting them to appropriate social network Eco system. Taking actions in the domain of the civil law would be much easier to handle and would develop the familiar risk reduction schemes that are common in the insurance industry.

The task of the law enforcement agency would be to monitor those Open Sources as part of the WEBINT effort and interface with the social network Eco systems to facilitate integrative efforts  to deter the offenders.


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