Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Gadgetizing Sex Offenders

Well, the snake-oil salesmen of technology have jumped on the sex offender tracking and locating bandwagon. Use our product and service, and your sex offender problems will be over.

Nope. The technology can at best tell us that the offender is (if the service is monitored in real time) or was (if location data was collected and stored for retrieval) at a particular location at any particular time. Knowing where a sex offenders is or was at any moment does not tell us what the offender is doing at that particular moment.

The technology of choice for sex offender tracking and locating is based on the global positioning system (GPS). The problem is not that the technology can't or won't work, because it can and does. The problem is that the technology must be monitored in real time and its results correctly and quickly interpreted by its operators to meet the public's expectations, expectations that have been unreasonably elevated by, you guessed it, the technology sales representatives.

The CBS Evening News on Wednesday, June 22, 2005, aired a piece entitled Tracking Convicted Sex Offenders. The technology touted in that news piece was based on the state's existing online sex offender registration database. Users would know, and even be alerted, if a registered sex offender (RSO) had a residence address in their neighborhood. The biggest value in these enhancements to the state's database is that subscribers/users will be notified "immediately" after an RSO's information has been entered into the state's online database and the service provider has initiated its notification process. Essentially, this service reduces the need for an inquiring individual to manually search the state's database. The service certainly adds nothing to the state's database to further enlighten the subscriber about the offenses committed by the RSO. In short, it increases convenience but not protection.

Then on Thursday, June 23, 2005, The Orange County Register published an article headlined GPS to track sex offenders. The article reports the California Department of Corrections has a budget allocation of $5.4 million to purchase 500 GPS tracking devices to be worn by sex offenders on parole. Interestingly enough, the article accurately describes the real-world limitations of these devices. In particular, the Register article notes that the devices only reveal the location of the offender, not the nature of his activity at that location. Bingo!

Criminal justice technology to monitor and track RSOs in these examples is too often and incorrectly viewed as an acceptable substitute for improved behavioral assessment methods, more precise offender classification methods, and behavioral modification treatment programs. Technology in any form is not a single simple solution to the problem. Technology is, at best, a tool to be used to provide information in an evolving program that leads to correction of an underlying behavioral problem.


Blogger Word Tosser said...

Also, I have a friend whose 17 year old son had one on because he was on release..(not a sex abuser) He found a way to slip it off, left it in his bed and he went out the window. No one was the wiser until he got into a car accident many hours later.

6:27 PM, June 23, 2005  
Blogger green libertarian said...

Well, knowing where they are is at least a start. It's not a be-all, end-all however.

9:24 PM, June 23, 2005  

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