2022 First Place Winner
West Haven High School, Grade 11
Teacher: Mark Consorte
“Police departments and school boards have experimented with ‘predictive policing’ technology to identify hotspots and individuals who could pose problems, even monitoring student social media and maintaining data on individuals. Do these practices violate civil rights protections?”
As time progresses, the law enforcement system continues to develop more ways to prevent crime. One technological development includes the method of “predictive policing” where law enforcement officers use technology to discover criminal hotspots and identify potentially problematic individuals. However, this method, used by some police departments and schools around the country, proves controversial in many communities. Ultimately, predictive policing violates people’s civil rights by creating an increased chance of discrimination and violations of personal privacy.
Predictive policing increases the likelihood of discrimination. Predictive policing aims to identify potential criminals by storing information based on “age, gender, marital status, history of substance abuse, and criminal record” as well as “socioeconomic background, education, and zip code” (Heaven). Although this identification system can assist in criminal detection, the practice could easily be used to discriminate against innocent people by tracking patterns of groups of people unjustly characterized by race or ethnicity. For instance, a population chart of 15- to 19-year-old boys in 2010 found that Bridgeport, CT had a population of 776 white boys and 2,113 African-American boys in comparison to Milford, CT that had a population of 1,243 white boys and only 62 African-American boys (Hayes). This data, in the hands of a racially-biased police force could unfairly target certain groups of people more than others.
In sum, selective profiling proves an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment where no state can “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (“The”). As a result, every citizen must receive equal treatment under the law. By allowing a biased system to predict potential criminals based on demographic information, such as race, predictive policing threatens to violate civil rights and discriminate against innocent people.
Privacy becomes a key issue in predictive policing because the government collects personal information without peoples’ consent. Such secretive information collection conflicts with the Fourth Amendment that protects people “against unreasonable searches and seizures” (“The”). In Carpenter v. United States (2018), police officers obtained transactional information from the cell phone company of a man suspected of robbing several stores. Defendant Timothy Carpenter claimed the warrantless seizure of evidence violated the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, stating “while a user might be abstractly aware that his cell phone provider keeps logs, it happens without any affirmative act on the user’s part. Thus, the Court held narrowly that the government generally will need a warrant to access cell-site location information” (“Carpenter”).
Both the Fourth Amendment and Carpenter prevent predictive policing from illegally accessing most private information. While the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 “prohibits only data purchases, it leaves a small but important loophole for app developers and data brokers to disclose sensitive data to government agencies without a warrant or payment” (Goitein). This outdated law endangers civil rights by ignoring Fourth Amendment requirements by allowing law enforcement to use sketchy methods of gathering personal information. Gathering information without regard to people’s privacy on the internet and using it to police predictively violates Fourth Amendment rights, therefore proving the practice of predictive policing to be unconstitutional.
Predictive policing violates one’s civil rights by violating personal privacy and causing racial discrimination. Although policing intends to protect citizens, predictive policing does more harm than good.
“Carpenter v. United States.” Oyez. 27 Feb 2022. www.oyez.org/cases/2017/16-402.
Goitein, Elizabeth. “The government can’t seize your digital data. Except by buying it.” The Washington Post. 26 April 2021. 27 February 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/04/26/constitution-digital-privacy-loopholes-purchases/.
Hayes, Laura. “Town Population with Demographics.” Connecticut’s Official State Website. 1 July 2010. 27 February 2022. https://portal.ct.gov/DPH/Health-Information-Systems–Reporting/Population/Town-Population-with-Demographics.
Heaven, Will. “Predictive policing algorithms are racist. They need to be dismantled.” Technology Review. 17 July 2020. 27 February 2022. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/07/17/1005396/predictive-policing-algorithms-racist-dismantled-machine-learning-bias-criminal-justice/.
“The U.S. Constitution.” National Constitution Center. 2015. 27 February 2022. constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/about-the-interactive-constitution.