People have been crowdsourcing crime-fighting ever since the advent of the wanted ad. You know the kind: Here’s a blurry face, or maybe a sketch artist’s rendering of one. Have you seen this guy recently? Police are looking for him.
There’s nothing terribly offensive about such posters, which are more synonymous with the Old West than Big Brother. But what if you take photos of thousands of suspects – not just society’s worst offenders, but its pick-pocketers and purse thieves – and upload them to millions of smart phones? Police in London are actually doing this now, with an app called “Facewatch” that pushes the concept of crowdsourced criminal justice into some creepy new territory.
"My hope is that the two-thirds of Londoners who own smart phones will download this app, and help us identify those suspects we still need to speak to," a London Metropolitan Police Services official crowed in a recent press release. "We need Londoners to browse through the app every week or so as new images will appear regularly, this is a fantastic way for Londoners to help us to fight crime."
In practice, though, this could be something quite different: an invitation for people to move about the city randomly fingering each other as criminals.