India has witnessed a few massive crowdsourcing campaigns during the past few years. One of the most renowned campaigns was a design contest conducted by the Ministry of Finance to create a symbol for the rupee. The Government received thousands of entries, but the design submitted by Udaya Kumar Dharmalingam of Kallakurichi, Tamil Nadu, ended up being selected from among the short-listed symbols.
We can describe Wikipedia as the father of internet crowdsourcing. Building on a non- for-profit business model, Wikipedia is a free, web-based, multilingual and collaborative site, established to harness the collective knowledge of the world to create a crowdsourced and openly edited encyclopedia, Wikipedia now hosts over 40 million articles in 299 different languages.
The term crowdsourcing, in a nutshell, means involving with the multitude of the community, intending to get whatever one may need. It came to existence mostly because of the digital age. Some police departments, the world over have been quick to embrace and assimilate it as a method to aid in their criminal investigations. Intelligence agencies all over the world have always crowdsourced information about criminals, terrorists, spies and suspects.
The term may be new but the idea is not new, police forces in India have been using this concept since ages by circulating pamphlets or pasting posters of wanted and missing persons promising a reward to those furnishing any information. In India, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has a lesser form of crowdsourcing called a “Colour Portrait Building System” which creates portraits of suspects based on the description given by victims and eye-witnesses. They use the portraits so generated by the system to solicit information from the people.
In India, we are witnessing some interesting developments in crowdsourcing. A good example is the Facebook page launched by the Delhi Traffic Police, which uses the pictures of traffic violations clicked by the people as a proof to prosecute vehicles violating traffic laws. The initiative has proved a success, and every second day there are at the most 10-20 tickets being issued for traffic-rule violations based on public participation. So, the police of Mumbai, Pune and Coimbatore have launched similar initiatives to better monitor traffic.
It perplexed the Mumbai Police when they received a complaint from a foreigner that a man had masturbated at her in a toilet. They came under extreme pressure to arrest the accused. To begin with, the Mumbai police only had a photograph of the accused, so they hit on the idea of using WhatsApp to establish the identity of the accused. They created a WhatsApp group called “Eyes and Ears” and added many informers who finally helped them identify the accused.
Police can become more effective and efficient and better serve the community through real-time crowdsourcing of data. Citizens through social media can help the cops create large databases they can use to track down perpetrators.
Video is everywhere and capitalising on the public’s proclivity for filming and willingness to help solve crimes in their community can be an essential tactic in police investigations. By planning, for fostering awareness and collaboration with the public, and considering a permanent evidence collection platform, police will have a valuable new tool in their investigative arsenal.
During the 2011 riots, the London Metropolitan Police crowdsourced the identities of 2,880 suspects by requesting the citizens to download an app called Face Watch ID. Police told the citizens to observe the images taken from CCTV footage to recognise the persons. If someone knew a person in an image found by them, it required citizens to enter the name and address of the person.
Crowdsourced video and digital media by providing crucial evidence have played a key role in detecting and preventing criminal cases. Police in Santa Barbara used crowdsourced information to identify the key accused in the 2014 “Deltopia” riots. Similarly, after the Stanley Cup tournament, when riots erupted, the Vancouver Police Department opened an email account, mainly to gather evidence from spectators. Much in the same way, the crowdsourced evidence helped the police make 25 of the over 100 arrests in the aftermath of the Keene riots in New Hampshire, USA.
Crowdsourcing is a great remedy especially during incidents such as the Boston marathon when the people are all charged up and incensed at what’s happened. The outrage moves the people to get involved as much as the police want to get at the culprits. The energy and involvement of the community harnessed at such times could help the police immensely in accomplishing their tasks easily and successfully.
To illustrate to this, the Boston Police in 2007 introduced a hotline called “Text-a-Tip”. In April 2013, when the Boston bombing happened, the hotline received 333 messages. Reddit an American online news aggregation website after the Boston bombing started a “Findbostonbombers” subreddit to crowdsource information on the Boston bombers. Reddit website witnessed it being inundated by contributions of over 870 subscribers and 1700 visitors who dumped innumerable photographs and videos, who also conducted amateur forensics and identified suspects. So much so, that the servers crashed. For investigations on a mammoth scale, trawling through the rabble of data to search what’s pertinent to the case, to make use, can be hard.
The Reddit content was also found laced with a discriminatory bias on the lines of race and religion. Some members of the public, paraded wrong information as facts leading to a witch-hunt of innocent bystanders. With the Boston bombing, the crowdsourced information did not provide a breakthrough, but the FBI, however, booked the real culprits. Just, a month prior to this episode, an online blog called Gawkers in March 2013, had crowdsourced information that led to successful identification and arrest of an accused involved in an assault.
We need not do crowdsourcing only for riots or large-scale law and order disturbances or known events. The Los Angeles Sheriff Department (LASD) hosts a secure portal called “Digital Witness” on their website which is open and available at all times so that people can send videos or photos of crimes or criminals or suspicious people or suspicious activities all the time.
There is this mentality inside police organisations of “This is our case, and we have to solve it.” The police assume that, if they go looking for help from the same community they are protecting, people will look down upon them. Crowdsourcing is heading towards being the wave of tomorrow. Police organisations may have an obligation to become accustomed to it, and they must realise that there is an unusual source they’re not tapping into. Imagine having lots of people from the world over from many backgrounds looking at a case and figuring it out for police. Crowdsourcing could be the next big thing after DNA for solving crimes, and as social media evolves, and as more people come forward and volunteer more cases would get resolved.
In 2012, the FBI’s top Cyber lawyer, Steven Chabinsky, described government efforts in fighting Cybercrime a flopped approach, he insisted that support of the public may be necessary for combating Cyber threats. That work is slowly starting. In a case, a teacher at the University of Alabama worked with the students in his criminal justice class to assist the FBI to solve a $70 million Cyber-crime ring run by criminals.
Researchers and lab students investigating computer viruses at the University of Alabama at Birmingham helped the FBI track down the international cybercrime ring responsible for stealing tens of millions of dollars online. Beginning in 2007, the cyber ring used a class of malware called DNSChanger to infect approximately 4 million computers in over 100 countries. There were about 500,000 infections in the U.S., including computers belonging to individuals, businesses, and government agencies such as NASA. The thieves could manipulate Internet advertising to generate at least $14 million in illicit fees.
Sometimes, malware had the additional effect of preventing users’ anti-virus software and operating systems from updating, exposing infected machines to even more malicious software. But the FBI, because of the support of the students in tracking the bug, could arrest six Estonian nationals and charge them with running a sophisticated Internet fraud ring. The success of the complex international investigation, such as Operation Ghost Click, resulted from a strong working relationship between law enforcement, private industry, and international partners.
As per the American game designer Jane McGonigal, today there are more than half a billion people worldwide playing computer and video games at least an hour a day. That comes to three billion hours a week as a planet playing video games. What if they could channel these efforts for police work? Doing so would unlock enormous power and potential of channelising the wisdom of the crowds in a way that solves the world’s most significant problems. We could apply gamification to our nation’s critical infrastructure systems. We could create animated games where players could be let loose to find security vulnerabilities in everything from our virtual electricity grids to our transportation networks. Such games would not only fix cybersecurity issues but also to deal with emerging threats such as bioterrorism, artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons systems, and Nanotechnology and prevent such threats from becoming dystopian.
Prizes can also spark innovation and solve problems such as the Raymond Orteig prize money of $25000 that spurred Charles Lindbergh to become the first aviator to cross the Atlantic and helped create today’s aviation industry. The XPRIZE foundation established by Peter Diamandis paved the way for space tourism and commercial space flights. Fortunately, the XPRIZE Foundation is planning a cyber-security XPRIZE, with support from Deloitte Consulting.A $20 million purse money which is a mere.01 percent of annual revenues from the $150 billion software industry might go a long way in protecting our technological future.
We as individuals and organisations embody a global consciousness of the interdependence of all life. Individuals and nations can no longer resolve many of their problems by themselves. We need one another. Police and people by coming together will engender a more sustainable future for each other and the earth....