Residents in Delhi, India have been transformed into police informants ever since the traffic police launched a Facebook page in order to crack down on bad drivers.
It works like this: when a driver sees someone breaking the traffic laws (running a red light, blocking a crosswalk, using a cell phone while driving, motorcycle riding without a helmet, etc), they take a photo of the violation in progress and upload it to the Delhi Traffic Police’s Facebook page. Then police review the photo and act accordingly by tracking down violators and writing tickets.
Some residents favor the program, saying that it’s a good use of police resources or that the potential to be flagged by anyone on the road will lead drivers to be safer and more cautious.
Though a good idea in theory, and certainly a novel use of social media, this raises several concerns.
- Civilians taking photos while driving? Not safe. In many of the pictures you can clearly see that the photos were taken from behind the wheel, complete with reflections of the dashboard on the windshield glass in the photo. Also, it is unclear what the rules are with respect to using a cell phone camera to snap photos while driving – shouldn’t that be actionable the same way that talking on a cell phone while driving is? Delhi’s Joint Commissioner of Traffic said that using a cellphone camera while driving is “in itself a violation,” so aren’t these drivers incriminating themselves by posting such a picture? It seems like the police should be issuing two tickets, one for the violator and one for the photographer.
- The opportunity for interjecting personal motives into this type of photo reporting is very high. How easy would it be to photoshop your ex’s license plate number into an otherwise legitimate traffic infraction photo?
- Photos do not always accurately portray a situation. Camera angles, lighting and other factors can sometimes make things appear differently as they do in real life. There might also be a compelling story to go along with the photo that a police officer would find excusable. Not that it’s correct behavior to break traffic rules, but speeding on the way to the hospital with a birthing woman in tow might be an acceptable societal exclusion. Prosecuting in this way removes police officer discretion.
Drivers will be supposedly be more careful since every citizen is now essentially an extension of a police officer. The Delhi Police have assigned four officers to monitor the Facebook page 24 hours a day. However, security and privacy concerns lie here, too, with public photos of license plates, cars and people that are readily identifiable. Being able to pinpoint where a specific person is on a certain day in a certain vehicle would make most Americans’ heads spin.
American police departments on occasion ask Facebook users to become more involved in law enforcement, such as in Louisiana where police asked citizens to help identify a vehicle involved in a robbery. Many other departments have Facebook pages to keep in touch with the community, but few have let users get involved on such a hands-on level.
Is this the future of law enforcement?