Crowdsourcing Crime Control
28 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2020
Date Written: November 18, 2020
Crowdsourcing, which leverages the collective expertise and resources of (mainly online) communities to achieve specified objectives, today figures prominently in a broad array of realms, including business, human rights, and medical and scientific research. It also now plays a significant role in governmental crime control efforts. Web and forensic–genetic sleuths, armchair detectives, and the like are collecting and analyzing evidence and identifying criminal suspects, at the behest of and with varying degrees of assistance from police officials.
Unfortunately, as with so many other aspects of modern society, current criminal procedure doctrine is ill-equipped to address this development. In particular, for decades it has been accepted that the Fourth Amendment only limits searches and seizures undertaken by public law enforcement, not private actors. Crowdsourcing, however, presents considerable taxonomic difficulty for existing doctrine, making the already often permeable line between public and private behavior considerably more so. Moreover, although crowdsourcing promises considerable benefit as an investigative force multiplier for police, it poses risks, including misidentification of suspects, violation of privacy, a diminution of governmental transparency and democratic accountability, and the fostering of a mutual social suspicion that is inimical to civil society.
Despite its importance, government use of crowdsourcing to achieve crime control goals has not yet been examined by legal scholars. Like the internet on which it predominantly relies, crowdsourcing is not going away; if anything, it will proliferate in coming years. The challenge lies in harnessing its potential, while protecting against the significant harms that will accrue should it go unregulated. This Essay describes the phenomenon and provides a framework for its regulation, in the hope of ensuring that the wisdom of the crowd does not become the tyranny of the crowd.
Keywords: crowdsourcing, policing, private search, Fourth Amendment
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