I have spent some time researching the value (if any) of app-based contact tracing (see App-based Contact Tracing is a Distraction to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. I also keep reading about the police brutality pandemic.
This made me click: can we use app-based contact tracing for better police accountability?
How it would work
Police officers would constantly broadcast a unique pseudonym over Bluetooth. This can be done through their bodycams or an improved version of their badge.
People would have an app installed on their phone (even better, pre-installed on every phone) that keeps recording the pseudonyms it receives.
This way, all interaction with the police can be traced.
When there is a “questionable interaction”, the people involved can be identified and more information can be gathered, e.g. footage from the body cam.
How this is different from app-based contact tracing
- This model is asymmetric. Pseudonyms are generated by members of the police forces and collected by “civilians”.
- For COVID-19, a trigger is when someone reports they have in infected with the virus. Here, a trigger is when someone reports a “questionable interaction”.
- This only works for close-contact interactions. If a bullet (rubber or metal) gets wrongly fired, this is not captured by the system.
- This assumes good coverage on both sides: enough “devices” broadcasting pseudonyms and enough phones recording them.
- There are ways to prevent the Bluetooth signal from being transmitted.
- Trolling is another big risk
- people reporting a problem for any encounter they have
- people harvesting pseudonyms
- There are some privacy issues, e.g. for undercover activities, conversation with informants, etc.
Most if not all of these problems are solvable. I am sure that the great minds who came up with COVID-19 app-based contact tracing could repurpose their work for a different kind of pandemic.