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Meet LASER: legitimate policing tool or instrument of abuse?

Here’s a hypothetical to dwell on for just a moment or two. Imagine that you were convicted of a crime and dutifully complied with every element of the criminal sentence that was imposed on you.

You have now entered your post-conviction world, believing in good faith that, while life might not be all sunshine and roses for you going forward, criminal justice authorities will no longer be pursuing you and scrutinizing your every move. After all, you did what was demanded to pay for your crime.

Now meet LASER. That designation is the short-form depiction for a sophisticated law enforcement tool termed “a post-9/11 dream” for investigators seeking to track individuals and uncover criminal activity.

LASER is reportedly not in use in North Carolina -- yet. As a media article discussing the technology states, only one environ -- a troubled, high-crime area -- in Los Angeles is currently the recipient of LASER’s enhanced search acumen, subject to a federal grant. Officials in a number of states have been briefed on the tool, though.

What LASER does, notes the above-cited article, is “connect dots” for investigators that they would otherwise miss. It does so by using next-generation technology that probes for patterns across a wide spectrum of areas. Investigators say that it is a great predictor of criminal activity, which it can help thwart before it develops.

The problem with LASER, notes a legion of critics, is that it relies upon police-supplied lists of ex-offenders.

Those are people “who have paid their debts to society,” says one ACLU attorney, who adds that they “shouldn’t remain stigmatized in the eyes of police.”

Unquestionably, the tool works by specifically targeting individuals who are identified through past behavior.

Is that a concern?

For many privacy advocates and common citizens who believe in providing persons who completed criminal sentences with a second chance, it likely is, and a big one at that.

“People do change,” says one commentator on LASER who challenges the notion that once a criminal, always a criminal.

Source: ABC News, “LAPD technology that tracks ex-cons stirs concerns,” Tami Abdollah, Nov. 14, 2016

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