Predictive Policing Symposium: Privacy and Legal Issues Breakout Session

Thomas O’Reilly opened the discussion by emphasizing that privacy and civil liberty issues are critically interrelated with predictive policing. Ensuring that predictive policing is constitutional from the start will provide a solid and just foundation moving forward. Additionally, engaging privacy advocates and community leaders from the outset will help alleviate concerns that predictive policing will violate any privacy rights.

Russell Porter noted that outcomes are important, but strategically it is imperative to build community trust by putting privacy, civil liberty and civil rights at the forefront. History has shown that serious legal consequences follow when appropriate consideration is not given to privacy rights.

Cmdr. Joan McNamara emphasized that the past informs the future. When suspicious activity reporting (SAR) was developed in Los Angeles, attorneys were involved from the beginning. Transparency, auditing and due diligence are critical to developing a process that is trustworthy, protects privacy and produces good outcomes. It is critical to train personnel to understand the difference between information and intelligence. 

John Wilson said that developing a thorough privacy policy is vital since law enforcement has the power and ability to affect people’s rights in a harmful way. Privacy policies are not new. If predictive policing is going to be driven by information-gathering technologies, there must be a clear understanding of how to use them properly. Consideration should be given to using privacy impact assessments in developing a policy, and information should be shared and discussed with civil liberty groups from the beginning.

Dr. David Carter said that he sees a lack of clarity in predictive policing at this point and identified two weaknesses: a lack of strategic priorities with no clear vision of what is to be accomplished, which leads to confusion about the difference between intelligence and information, and the absence of good critical thinking in the analysis of quantitative data and qualitative information.

The group made suggestions for the Second Predictive Policing Symposium, and a session summary provided the following key points:

  • There is a rich history dealing with privacy and mistakes, and these issues have yet to be resolved.
  • The SAR effort provides lessons for how to develop a privacy policy.
  • There will come a time when training in privacy issues is considered as important to a policing program as the firearms policy.
  • Transparency is critical to establishing community trust.
  • Understanding what behaviors have a nexus to crime provides a valid law enforcement purpose.
  • Predictive policing must be constitutional.
Date Created: December 18, 2009