Los Angeles Law Enforcement Looking To Crowdsource Surveillance

by Tim Cushing
Apr. 16, 2014

The LAPD wants you, Joe Citizen, to help it out with its surveillance. It has enlisted the help of a crowdsourcing tool called LEEDIR to collect photos and recordings from everyday people who may have additional footage of natural disasters or civil unrest that could help out both emergency responders and cops looking to put a few more demonstrators in jail.
In today's announcement, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and the Boston Marathon bombings were mentioned as scenarios in which LEEDIR could help law enforcement respond to disasters or large-scale public security threats. One might also imagine large citizen protests like Occupy Wall Street being the focus of such crowdsourced surveillance.
It's unarguable that the addition of crowdsourced photos and video helped authorities track down the Boston Bombing suspects, which shows that there is some value to this service. But, as is pointed out by Xeni Jardin, it could also be used to build a database of people enjoying First Amendment-protected activities. Currently, the site is soliciting input for any info related to last week's party-turned-riot in Isla Vista, CA, where over 100 arrests were made and 44 people injured, including five police officers. The notice clearly states the police are "seeking to identify several subjects wanted for violent felonies that occurred during the evening."

This is a potentially useful tool that isn't completely evil, but there are some definite concerns. For one, there's no real way to submit anything anonymously. You aren't required to input your name, but the app itself demands access to GPS data and any other communications-related metadata is likely hoovered up by LEEDIR when images and video are uploaded.

There are also other questions left unanswered about the handling of the data submitted.
According to today's announcement, agencies might typically retain uploaded content for a month or two, then delete it. But there's no requirement to delete it…
And the way the system is accessed and used seems to lend itself to abuse.
It's up to law enforcement to provide analysts or investigators to sort through all of the content uploaded to LEEDIR and find potential evidence…

Once the content is uploaded, it belongs to law enforcement, [Co-Global CEO Nick] Namikas said. It's up to each agency to decide how long they want to store the content in the cloud – a service being provided by Amazon.
An unfiltered influx of photos and videos curated by law enforcement officers. What could possibly go wrong? The tool may be aimed at natural disasters (which provides free access to police and emergency responders in the affected area), but paid subscriptions are available which would keep LEEDIR live at all times for any law enforcement agency willing to foot the bill.

As if the potential negatives of this sort of crowdsourcing weren't apparent enough, there's also the very large problem of who's behind this new system.
Under the leadership of disgraced former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, the department is said to have conceptualized the web service and smartphone app, which was built by Citizen Global with Amazon

Baca's administration was plagued by corruption and scandal, and he resigned amid ongoing investigation into possible criminal activity. Certainly no such imperfect leader would misuse LEEDIR.
But LA Sheriff's Dept. commander Scott Edson sees no downside:
“I like to call this a flag-waving opportunity,” Edson said. “This is a great opportunity for the public who really wants to catch those guys as badly as any law enforcement agency wants to catch them. Now they’re going to have an opportunity.”
Sure. Just like "see something, say something" filled DHS Fusion Centers with thousands of reports of people using cameras. With unfiltered access to whatever citizens submit, law enforcement can browse for unrelated criminal activity or simply use it to fill in the holes in their surveillance network.

It's not that it couldn't help, as it did in the Boston Bombing. It's that the downside isn't even being considered by the proponents of the system, which include a former law enforcement official accused of corruption. There's seemingly no oversight to the program and absolutely no concerns being raised about privacy or the potentially endless retention of non-relevant footage and photos.

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