At this time, technology has evolved and become more invasive of your privacy than ever before. Whether people realize it or not, their information is out there for others to find – and some of those people can be the police. Some of this information can include their location, interests, whether they are home or away on vacation, different online interactions, and many more. Sometimes people don’t think about the things they post online, and that can lead things to come back to them, like what they were doing on November 15th, 2016. But sometimes technology can be used to prevent or deter more crimes from occurring, like tracking and releasing the location of known threats.
Crimes are solved with the assistance of computers and technology all the time nowadays. Selected below are 3 cases where technology was used to solve crimes more efficiently and effectively.
On November 29th, 2017, the Supreme court of the United States heard a case called Carpenter v. The US. Carpenter, the petitioner, was convicted in 2011 based on cell phone location evidence that the police obtained without a probable cause warrant. “Based on that information, the prosecutors applied for court orders under the Stored Communications Act to obtain cell phone records for petitioner Timothy Carpenter and several other suspects.” (“Carpenter v. United States”). The law enforcement involved in the case used a different method to obtain the cell records than a warrant. The question brought against the Supreme Court was this: Does the warrantless use of cell phone records violate the search and seizure protection clause of the 4th amendment? The Court found in a 5 to 4 vote that it does indeed violate Carpenter’s 4th amendment right against search and seizure. But this case puts the US in a weird spot, does law enforcement need a warrant for public records? Or even data that is on social media, privately-owned platforms. As technology grows, the law must grow along with it, without rules there would be anarchy across the public database that is the internet.
In a more negative light, it is reasonable to bring up the creation of Megan’s Law. Megan’s Law is a database of sex offenders that uses GIS tracking to let the public know the offender’s residence and charges on a website format. GIS simply stands for Geographic Information System, which operates by identifying convicted offenders’ crime type, frequency, and location to organize them in the database. Many people debate the ethics of GIS tracking, but first, it must be understood what it is. “GIS technology can help analyze information, such as types of crime by location, victim population groups served and underserved, and the location of victim service organizations and their geographic service areas” (Using Geographic Information Systems to Map Crime Victim Services: A Guide for State Victims of Crime Act Administrators and Victim Service Providers).
In an article that speaks on the importance of the use of Megan’s Law and its history, it mentions, “It required every state to have a sex offender registry and a notification system for the public when a sex offender is released into their community” (Montaldo). In July 1994, the brutal rape and murder of Megan Kanka occurred, causing outrage among parents in the US, when it was a known sex offender in the area who committed the crime. This public outrage is what sparked the creation of the database Megan’s Law so that people could be aware of the threats in their area. The Megan’s law act was passed in 1996, in modification to the pre-existing Child Crimes Care and Protection act. The Child Crimes Care and Protection Act was established in 1993, and merely encouraged cities to improve their criminal records for the safety of children in the area, concerning the CAPTA (The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) act which was imposed in ‘74. Megan’s law also sees that any offender who is re-convicted sees life in prison for re-commitment of a child or sexual offense. In this representation of technology affecting crime, GIS tracking is used in an attempt to prevent more crimes from occurring. Having the potential threats made aware to homeowners in a given area, greatly reduces the risk and likelihood for those children to experience such crimes, keeping them safer.
For the final case, new DNA technology advancements helped solve the 31-year-old murder case of Fawn Cox. “In the first decade of the 2000s, KCPD Crime Lab scientists developed a suspect DNA profile from the bodily fluids that were collected and stored in 1989. They uploaded this to the national CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database. CODIS is the national criminal justice DNA database. There was no match” (New DNA technology solves 31-year-old murder case). The victim, Fawn Cox, was murdered in her home in 1989 at the age of 16. The case was cold, as there wasn’t much police could do at the time with bodily fluids on scene. They collected the evidence in hopes of technological advances in the future that would allow them to find her killer. “Detectives brought up Cox’s case as a possible candidate for a new type of DNA identification: genealogical DNA testing. It allows law enforcement to compare the profile of the unknown suspect’s DNA to other national databases and build a family tree of that person, thereby creating a small pool of suspects.\” (New DNA technology solves 31-year-old murder case). Using the genealogical DNA testing they were able to find a close match to the DNA found and used it to identify a close relative to the killer. It was really important for them to have collected the DNA in the first place but without the improvements and discoveries in DNA technology, the Kansas City Police Department surely wouldn’t have figured it out.
An honorable mention case is the important and recent Van Buren vs the United States, which discusses hacking law. In the early 1900s when computers were first programmed, created, and designed, this case wasn’t even a possible thought in their mind. It can be almost guaranteed that Ada Lovelace wasn’t considering the weight of information being free or not to be obtained on public or private networks. The petitioner, Van Buren, was caught up in a government sting operation and convicted in about 2019, based on felony computer fraud, and honest-services wire fraud. The petitioner appealed, but the appellate court held the decision to be the same as the prior. In 2020, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and discussed the main definition of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act which states that “An individual “exceeds authorized access” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 when he accesses a computer with authorization but then obtains information located in particular areas of the computer that are off-limits to him” (Barrett). The Supreme court heard the oral arguments in November of 2020, in which the petitioner argued for a new definition of the act and the government wishes to keep the former. “Van Buren argued that the phrase means information one is not allowed to obtain “by using a computer that he is authorized to access,” while the government argued that it meant information one was not allowed to obtain “in the particular manner or circumstances in which he obtained it.” (Barrett). The Court decided to uphold Van Buren’s definition saying that if they were to follow the government’s definition it, “would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity” (Barrett). As technologies advance, the law must advance and become more specific to it. Because as people gain liberties on the web, and new freedoms on social media, new regulations have to be put in place, or else social media becomes Lord of the Flies.
Throughout this paper, it was discussed how the development of technology has helped in different cases. Technology helped with the identification of a 31-year-old murder case, and with the identification of numerous criminals through cell data locations. While the ethics of the use of cell data was debated and decided unconstitutional in this case, law enforcement must just take the proper method to retrieve the warrant for the data. Technology has also been used to prevent crimes, by using GIS tracking technology on Megan’s law, helps keep people aware of the threats in their area.
Barrett, Amy Coney. “Van Buren v. United States.” Oyez, 30 November 2020, https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/19-783. Accessed 4 May 2022.
“Carpenter v. United States.” American Civil Liberties Union, 22 June 2018, https://www.aclu.org/cases/carpenter-v-united-states. Accessed 20 April 2022.
Levenson, J. S., and L. P. Cotter. “The Effect of Megan’s on Sex Offender Reintegration.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, (2005), pp. 49-66. Effects of Megan’s Law on Sex Offenders, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2005-01304-003.
Matthews, Kayla. “Six Times Technology Helped In Winning a Case.” Law Technology Today, 21 June 2017, https://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2017/06/six-times-technology-helped-win-a-case/. Accessed 20 March 2022.
Montaldo, Charles. “The History, Practice, Implications of Megan’s Law.” ThoughtCo, 6 November 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-megans-law-973197. Accessed 20 April 2022.
“New DNA technology solves 31-year-old murder case.” Kansas City Police Department, 11 November 2020, https://www.kcpd.org/media/news-releases/new-dna-technology-solves-31-year-old-murder-case/. Accessed 20 March 2022.
“Using Geographic Information Systems to Map Crime Victim Services: A Guide for State Victims of Crime Act Administrators and Victim Service Providers.” Office of Justice Programs, https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/using-geographic-information-systems-map-crime-victim-services. Accessed 20 April 2022.