Catching Criminals in a Digital Age

I am planning on writing much, much more about the Boston Marathon tragedy later on. Separate from that post, however, I wanted to take a few minutes to think out loud about the impact that technology has had on the exercise of tracking down America's Most Wanted over the past 15 or so years. Here is a non-exhaustive list of technologies I either saw used on TV or by friends, or used myself, or which the talking heads talked about being used by law enforcement:

- Google Earth (showing us where 'the boat' was)
- Cell phone tracking
- Cell phone signal scrambling/tower shutdowns
- Social media (allowing everyone in America to become a crime scene investigator in the search for the suspects)
- Social media (allowing the media and regular people to learn as much about the suspects as possible in minutes)
- Street cameras/phone cameras and videos (allowed the incident to be filmed and analyzed, with suspects identified, in days rather than weeks, months, etc.)

There were also some less desirable uses of technology. The ability of pure rumors to spread has increased exponentially in the internet age. The traditional media's insistence on repeating those rumors to make people believe that it is still relevant has created a report first, ask questions later mentality and, in some cases, hampered the efforts of law enforcement. Message boards and comments sections on websites have helped vitriol spread more quickly, or perhaps just more publicly, than in the past.

All in all though, it was a good week for technology.

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