Solving problems, effectively, takes the application of both minds and bodies. Yesterday, a young mathematician suggested something that shows how this may work.
Now, the idea is not fully operational and has flaws. But, it contains the grains of a very good way to thwart a certain activity, or make it more difficult to commit without trace.
The details of the idea are not as important as the essence: many people carry around daily a device that allows you to know where they are at any particular time.
Mobile networks record phones’ locations, though the data may only be available to the police and other recognised organisations following a court order, as in the UK under the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act.
So, the idea of trying to use details of phone locations to narrow down searches for criminals is an interesting one.
Many applications, especially those that use media, have forms of ‘geotagging’, i.e. adding location information, that may or may not be done automatically or overridden. An app called Find Friends comes installed on iPhones by default, and allows you to share your location with approved contacts; it has its good (know where friends and family are) and evil uses (snoop or your acquaintances’ movements).
Just today, another piece in The Guardian, entitled ‘Apparently my smartphone is telling everyone exactly where I am right now. Should I care?‘, prompted by the image-sharing app Snapchat and its controversial new “Snap Map”, which shows users their friends’ locations in near-real time, and disconcerting detail.
Concerns over such features have mainly been to do with privacy and the possibilities for stalking and bullying. But, as Mr. Crawford points out, the potential is there for such information to be used in other (good) ways.
We’ve moved into an age where mobility is much higher than before, and the relevance of information about people’s supposed domiciles is weak. Admitted, in many places, you need to offer an address or ID to buy a SIM card, this is a near-useless control on the sale of them. Case in point: I changed my postpaid phone contract just after I moved, recently; to effect the change I needed to supply my ‘address’. The only verifiable address was the one I had just left. OK, that’s fine. So, I have a new phone contract tagged to my old address and no record of where I now live! My bills are sent by email, so I could be off the planet, as far as the provider is concerned. Main thing: I pay my bills each month.
In the UK, for instance, it was the case that you could pick up a SIM card for free at the airport, and it had some credit on it. You just had to take it to a store or call a ‘service’ number to get it activated. You don’t have to be a genius to see how such availability and anonymity would attract many whose motives are not pure. The criminal community have been using ‘throw away’ SIMs for ages. So, the SIM is not the way to track many, though it may catch some.
Rather than people like Damion figuring out how to make the idea work, the telecoms company should suggest what could be done to make that happen. That’s real ‘community’ policing.
As in many spheres, when the landscape gets rough, people look for easier terrain. Getting away from use of the mobile phone may be a step too far for many, so the known likelihood of regular tracing of devices may be what tips the balance for a significant number.
While it may not stop crime dead, it may start to make criminals think harder, as the risks start to swing against them. That’s part of the puzzle that’s been missing in Jamaica for a while, and needs to change fast.