The TriadCity Adventurer

All the News that Causes Fits

High Tech Crime Tracking Network Under Construction

By Occam
Month of Bulls 11, Year of Rebirth 2

The Code Warriors, working closely with officials of at least two of the Thirds, are constructing an advanced computer network and database which will track the actions -- and the whereabouts -- of reported criminals.

Dubbed "CrimeNet", the high tech system allows victims and witnesses to instantaneously report criminal acts, including bioscans of the reported criminal(s). Merchants, law enforcement, and government agencies have access to reports, and will be able to rapidly cross-check any individual against the database.

"CrimeNet is a major step toward fulfillment of my oft-repeated campaign pledge to totally eliminate crime, by totally eliminating criminals," said a statement issued by the office of Hizzonor the Mayor of the NorthEast Third.

Although the system is technologically advanced, it will be extremely easy to use, according to a Code Warrior spokesperson.

"A witness or victim reporting a crime will use a simple device to bioscan the perpetrator," she said. "The resulting record is stored for networked access by anyone with appropriate permissions."

I examined a prototype of the reporting device. About the size of a police officer's sidearm, it reminded me of a drugstore barcode reader -- or a phaser on Star Trek. As the technology matures, future versions may be as small as a ring or bracelet. A complete bioscan requires less than one second, and trials have confirmed that the system is extremely accurate.

"We estimate probability of error at one report in ten billion," said the Code Warrior spokesperson.

Privacy advocates find this accuracy to be a mixed blessing.

"So a Boy Scout observes you jaywalking in NorthEast. Or his grandmother believes your stereo is too loud. Zap! You're snitched. Permanently," said Jorj, a student activist at TC University and member of the campus' New Indicator Newspaper Collective. "Now any cop or copbot or vigilante or yahoo anywhere in the City is free to impose whatever degree of violence -- er, justice -- local custom permits. Scary thought."

Hizzonor believes the likelihood of abuse is very small.

"The ordinary, law-abiding citizen will be protected by the Free Market," continues his statement. "The cost of system components -- reporting devices and access terminals -- will prohibit all but the most mature and responsible elements of our society from ownership. Only those proven trustworthy by success will be able to use it."

A member of the Council of the Southern Third agreed that the system will be safe.

"This is the best, most advanced technology available. You can believe in it," she said.

However, an administrator of the NorthWest Third Assembly expressed numerous misgivings.

"Reliance on free market regulation is anarchic at best, discriminatory at worst. If the history of the NorthEast Third is any yardstick, the system will largely serve to protect the propertied, while denying the accused due process or the right to confront their accusers."

Does this mean the NorthWest Assembly plans to reject use of CrimeNet within their jurisdiction?

"Not necessarily. We're intrigued by the ability to apprehend violent criminals who enter the Third. We think it might be possible to mitigate the system's undemocratic and discriminatory implications by, for instance, distributing reporting devices at public expense; or making them available in public areas. Or, we might instruct the Peacekeepers to accost only those suspects reported by NorthWest citizens. The Assembly will need to thoroughly debate the pros and cons of these and other approaches."


What happens if an innocent person is mistakenly scanned into the system?

"Oh, well, heh heh," said Hizzonor, with his trademark grandfatherly wink. "I think we all know who the criminals are."

"It's not a problem," said one of the developers. "Anyone falsely accused can have themselves removed via the usual channels." These include a trip to your local judge; a discussion with your preferred Third administration; the legal services of hired experts; and other well-known mechanisms.

Who will have access to the reports stored within the system?

"Law enforcement officials and other public servants, naturally," said the Code Warrior spokesperson. "Also licensed merchants willing to pay for terminals."

"In other words: anyone who can afford it," scoffed Jorj. "While ordinary citizens and smaller merchants are locked out by price."

The NorthWest Assembly administrator I spoke with agreed. "Access to existing records threatens to be as undemocratic as creation of new ones. Again, we may be able to mitigate these problems by, for instance, posting public terminals in libraries, cafes, and other public areas. Our ability to do this may turn out to depend on budget. Naturally the Third has not yet allocated funds for this purpose. It'll have to be debated by the full public assembly."

What action will be taken by law enforcement when reported criminals are encountered?

"This is a major area of undemocratic bias in the system as we understand it today," continued the NorthWest Assembly administrator. "The current state of the universe does not allow arrest of suspects for trial via due process. Law enforcement currently has one option only: summary violence. It's not at all clear that this punishment is appropriate to all varieties of crime which may be reported. Indeed there's no agreement between the Thirds as to what exactly constitutes 'crime'. Our fear is that Stormtroopers, for instance, will summarily execute those reported for pickpocketing or other nonviolent misdemeanors."

Hizzonor views this prospect as the system's major advantage.

"Oh, well, heh heh," he said, with his trademark grandfatherly wink. "To make an omelet you have to break eggs."

Given the apparent lack of consensus between the Thirds over features and deployment, I asked the Code Warriors spokesperson whether they felt any hesitation in undertaking development.

"We're not a policy-making body," she said. "We simply build what we're hired to build. It's up to the political authorities to determine its appropriate use."

How much will the devices cost?

"I don't know for certain," said the Code Warriors spokesperson. "First generation reporting devices are likely to retail for around 10,000 Dinars, while access terminals might run 50,000. There may or may not be a service subscription fee. Future generation enhancements may lower the costs, as may larger-scale production. Many of these scenarios depend on the powers that be, which are beyond our control."

When will the system be deployed?

"We're ready for real-world testing to begin whenever hardened hardware is available. The Southern Third has the most advanced and extensive communications infrastructure, so with the Central Computer's permission we've volunteered to host the alpha," said a member of the Council of the Southern Third.

Poobah declined to be interviewed, noting "I'm just an architect, I don't work with computer stuff."

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