It’s easier than ever to use your phone to report someone else breaking the law and, in some cases, even make money in the process.
A new smartphone app will allow citizens to submit evidence of speeding drivers to police forces. New York also allows you to upload videos of idling trucks. But experts say that the growing number of such applications raises many ethical questions.
“Authorities have often also offered rewards for information on serious crimes and villains,” said Mark Weinstein, a privacy expert, in an interview with Digital Trends. “But training our fellow citizens to spy on each other and report wrongdoing as a common practice and a way to generate revenue essentially turns our constitutionally democratic society of privacy into a chatterbox authoritarian culture where mutual respect and trust have been replaced by privacy = – copyright-infringing chatters.”
Catching speed bumps
An app intended for use in the UK, called Speedcam Anywhere, can also be used on tablets and is currently being tested by volunteers from a non-profit organization working to lower speed limits.
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In the UK, video uploads from car dashboard cameras and cyclist head cameras have been used to report traffic crime for several years, and the police have set up web portals to upload such videos.
Now Speedcam Anywhere allows you to upload videos showing vehicle speed recorded by a pedestrian using a smartphone. It is not the smartphone itself that measures the pace, but AI video analysis and identification of time-stamped video frames.
Rod King, founder of 20’s Plenty for Us, said in an interview with Digital Trends that using a speeding app is akin to witnessing someone trying to break into a house by breaking a window.
“I wonder what you would say a ‘good citizen’ would do,” he said. “Pass by and don’t get involved, arrest the person involved or report them to the police. I think most agree that a good and careful citizen would call the police.”
Tom McNamara, head of Apex Privacy, a global privacy compliance firm, said in an interview that he disagreed with the app’s approach.
“People are private beings and they need space,” he added. “The feeling of being constantly watched makes people behave differently. Between smartphones tracking online behavior and the feeling of being constantly watched, it can affect how people live their lives, and the outcome tends to be less law-abiding citizens, more suspicious and paranoid.”
Money to catch polluters
New Yorkers can make big bucks by reporting trucks that are illegally idling while making deliveries. The online citizen complaint program launched by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection in 2019 is called the Citizens Air Complaint Program. The program allows ordinary New Yorkers to receive a cash reward for their “enforcement efforts.”
Emissions from idling gasoline and diesel motor vehicles can cause health problems, including asthma, respiratory problems and cardiovascular damage, according to the agency’s website.
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Citizens can collect prizes by recording a video in which a commercial vehicle can be seen standing still for more than three minutes. They then log into the city’s Idle Complaint System to file and track their complaint.
The fine for the first offender is $350, and higher for repeat offenders. The person who recorded the video and filed a complaint is subject to a 25 percent fine.
Weinstein said he doesn’t question the regulation behind the program because it “seems reasonable and has good health benefits for citizens.”
But, Weinstein said, “if enforcement is as rewarding as idling trucks are for citizens who uncover crimes, then authorities should hire new employees to maintain mutual goodwill and public trust in each other. Regulations.”
Kickstarter for cops
New apps that allow the public to report law violations are part of a big data revolution, Evyatar Ben Artzi, CEO of Darrow, a software company that scours the web for evidence of law violations, said in an interview with Digital Trends. He said legal professionals, whether private law firms or government enforcement agencies, are beginning to understand the need to use data applications.
“Every day there are countless breaches, from air pollution that causes cancer, to data breaches that compromise sensitive information to faulty drugs that cause irreparable harm — they’re nearly impossible to find in a sea of data, let alone build a case around,” Artzi said. .
Legal scholars call this trend crowdsourced violation data, which is sometimes used to track human rights abuses. “It increases the chance of getting caught committing a violation and therefore deters bad actors from doing wrong,” Artzi said. “This could bring justice to cases that would otherwise be overlooked.”
It has a chilling effect on the way we behave.
Artzi argues that while mass infringement can help control big business and protect human rights in civil litigation, it has significant drawbacks when used to source criminal cases, in which the state is the prosecutor and individuals are usually the defendants.
“There is a huge imbalance of power between the state and the individual defendant in criminal proceedings,” Artzi said. “Encouraging surveillance of fellow citizens in everyday life gives the state even greater power over individuals and widens the already enormous disparity of power in criminal proceedings.”
Crowdsourcing legal apps can create a “snooper culture,” where people stop thinking as individuals and start seeing themselves as the long arm of the state, Artzi said.
“This has a chilling effect on the way we behave. The feeling of being watched changes people and limits freedom,” Artzi added.” And let’s not forget the American ideal of fair play: Using the public to collect criminal offenses may very well allow the state to circumvent some of the procedural limitations that criminal law has developed over the past 200 years.”