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.
Several recent natural disasters have illustrated the need for humanitarian groups, volunteers and policymakers to understand privacy issues when searching for missing persons in the aftermath of these crises.
The Commons Lab and the Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) at Fordham Law School have teamed up on a new report looking at these legal and policy issues. The report, “Privacy and Missing Persons after Natural Disasters,” can be found online here.
From the press release:
In the wake of the horrific bombings at this week’s Boston Marathon, a complex web of agencies has been furiously searching for suspects. Intelligence analysis is already a challenge, and attempting to identify suspects at a massively popular public event is even more difficult. Eager to scoop this major story, news outlets have repeatedly “broke” pieces on suspects only to retract them quickly. The paucity of information has been exacerbated by dubious crowd-based efforts to aid the search.
Despite a global effort to prevent atrocities including genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape, millions remain at risk. In an effort to combat future atrocities, today the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Humanity United launched the second and final round of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention and competition, an innovative approach to developing new ways to combat and prevent the worst human rights violations.
The Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention encourages individuals, groups and organizations to apply technology-based solutions to the most significant challenges surrounding atrocity prevention. Submitted in the form of prototypes or concept papers, proposals are reviewed by a prestigious panel of judges comprised of human rights and technology experts and U.S. government leaders. Winners receive cash prizes. Humanity United and USAID will also explorethe possibility of piloting and scaling the most promising innovations. Continue reading “New Tech Challenge: Can Technology Can Be Used to Stop Atrocities?”→
We are inundated daily with stories from the news media about the possible impact social media like Facebook and Twitter will have on our lives. When a storm like Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast, can this technology actually help to save lives and reduce catastrophic damages? It’s possible.
For instance, mobile devices could allow emergency responders, affected communities, and volunteers to rapidly collect and share information as a disaster unfolds. Photos and videos provided through social media could help officials determine where people are located, assess the responses and needs of affected communities—such as water, food, shelter, power and medical care—and alert responders and citizens to changing conditions.
At least that is the promise. When Hurricane Irene barreled across the Eastern seaboard in August 2011, many in the news media cited it as a pivotal moment for social media for disasters. But research we conducted on the use of social media during Irene suggests otherwise. While some emergency management departments launched new social media outreach strategies during the storm, particularly to push information out to the public, many did not change their practices radically and overall use of the technology varied. Continue reading “Tweeting Up a Storm”→
Editor’s note: This guest blog is by Edward S. Robson, Esq.
In the past I have written about the tort liability that digital volunteers face when making responses. In addition to a number of other strategies, one method for reducing liability is to obtain indemnification from the governmental agency or NGO requesting the services of the digital volunteers.
First, a few words about indemnification: This means to require a requestor to pay any expenses or awards associated with the claims brought against digital volunteers as a result of their work for the requesting party. If a member of a digital volunteer group negligently released information causing a disaster victim to be injured, the requesting agency would be contractually required to pay attorney’s fees incurred in defense, or any awards. An indemnification agreement would not necessarily cover all conduct of digital volunteers, including acts of gross negligence or recklessness.
To obtain indemnification, groups need an agreement with the party requesting service. The agreement need not be actively negotiated but could be contained in an online activation request. The acceptance of terms and conditions, including acceptance of indemnification, would be a prerequisite for submission of an activation request.
Many groups are developing activation protocols or criteria for determining which calls for assistance they will answer. The willingness of a requestor to indemnify a group and its members seems a logical criterion for separating the sometimes overwhelming requests for help. It could provide a layer of confidence for digital volunteers and encourage action. Continue reading “Calling for “Backup” – Indemnification for Digital Volunteers”→
As Hurricane Sandy approached the East Coast this weekend, efforts were already underway to allow the mapping of geographically referenced data. A developing trend in disaster management is to allow members of the public to produce data related to their needs and location, to map disaster-affected areas, and to process the data that’s produced. This “crowdsourcing” relies on mapping platforms such as Ushahidi, Google.org’s CrisisMaps, and OpenStreetMap, but there are many such examples.
Editors note: This event is scheduled for Nov. 30, 2012 from noon to 1 pm.
The Commons Lab of the Science and Technology Innovation Program welcomes Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, Director, National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law, University of Missisippi School of Law and Research Professor of Law.
When: Friday, November 30, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM EST
Where: 6th Floor Board Room
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20004
(Near Federal Triangle or Metro Center Metros)
This event is co-hosted by the Commons Lab of the Science and Technology Innnovation Program, Woodrow Wilson Center, and the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law, University of Mississippi School of Law.An archived video will be posted within a week of the event.Disclaimer: The materials on this website do not constitute legal advise. This event and presentation is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship by offering this information, and anyone’s review of the information shall not be deemed to reate such a relationship. You should consult your own attorney if you have a legal matter requiring attention. Also, nothing on this sie creates an express or implied contract.
The Commons Lab has made available our library of documents and citations on the popular open-source citation management system Zotero. This library is a tagged, searchable list that makes available full bibliographical information, and downloadable full text editions of publicly available documents.
We hope this is a useful resource. The Commons Lab is on the lookout for more resources concerning the crowdsourcing technology and policy, and is accepting submissions for entry into the library. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions.