Predictive Policing Makes Everyone A Suspect, Even EU Officials


from the presumptive-policing-actually dept

We’ve long known so-called “predictive policing” is garbage. It’s the same old biased policing, except shinier and more expensive. Every system in place relies on data generated by policework — data instantly tainted by the things cops do, like hassling minorities, engaging in very selective enforcement, and treating people as inherently suspicious just because of where they live. These acts generate the garbage data that ensures that, when all the digital gears stop turning, more garbage data will be generated.

To highlight the worthlessness of predictive policing tools, criminal justice watchdog Fair Trials has mocked up an input tool of its own — one any site visitor can interact with and experience the faint horror of being prejudged a criminal by a set of seemingly innocuous questions.

Attend more than one school while growing up? Is your credit rating a bit too low? Have you ever witnessed a crime? Ever been the recipient of government benefits? Are you a minority? Ever spoken to the cops for any reason? Answer enough of these questions with a “yes” and you’ll head right up into “High Risk” territory — the sort of thing that tends to generate even more interactions with police officers utilizing predpol data… which then generates even more data ensuring you’ll remain on the “High Risk” list in perpetuity.

Sure, this is an extremely simplified version of software governments pay millions to purchase, but the risk factors presented are all used in predictive policing. And, as Fair Trials points out, these same sorts of systems are used by judges to determine bail amounts and sentence lengths — things that can be increased simply because a person has done nothing more than witness a crime or fallen behind on their bills.

Since it’s incredibly easy to rack up risk factors just by living your life, it’s no surprise even people with presumably the cleanest backgrounds can still find themselves listed among the troublesome by predictive policing algorithms. As Thomas Macaulay reports for The Next Web, Fair Trials’ predpol quiz has snagged a number of EU officials.

Politicians from the Socialists & Democrats, Renew, Greens/EFA, and the Left Group were invited to test the tool. After completing the quiz, MEPs Karen MelchiorCornelia ErnstTiemo WölkenPetar Vitanov, and Patrick Breyer were all identified as at “medium risk” of committing future crime.

As noted above, Fair Trials has presented a very simplified version of predictive policing software. But the questions used are very representative of how this software presents people to police officers, prosecutors, and judges. It takes a bunch of demographic data, conjures up networks of suspected criminals out of interactions, proximity and societal background, and spits out lists of high-risk people for cops to hassle. The end result is the laundering of biased policing via expensive black boxes that give the usual selective enforcement efforts a veneer of cold, hard science.

But underneath all the ones and zeroes, its basically still just cops going after poor people, minorities, foreigners, and anyone else perceived to be an easy target. Spending millions on proprietary algorithms doesn’t change a thing.

Filed Under: eu, future crime, politicians, predictive policing

Las Vegas News Magazine

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