How Long Until Citizen Gets Someone Killed?
Written by Lil Kalish on Mother Jones.
’Jim Thatcher, an urban studies professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, is skeptical. “If you give people this power to draw attention based around a dangerous event,” Thatcher says, “then they are actually encouraged to seek out, or at worst manufacture, these dangerous events,” noting the speed with which Citizen escalated the manhunt. Like many others, Thatcher downloaded Citizen during last year’s protests. He wondered whether it might be used as a tool for “sousveillance,” a term surveillance activists use in reference to turning cameras back on authorities. That didn’t shake out. “Let’s be explicitly clear here,” he says. “The ‘frictionless’ solution provided by a for-profit company for a public health and safety issue is just…not good. There’s no outcome where this ends well.”
Hamid Khan, founder of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, an anti-police-surveillance group, says the manhunt wasn’t Citizen gone awry; it was Citizen working as designed. Khan sees the app as part of a “culture of deputization and vigilantism” built on the “see something, say something” ethos of neighborhood watch, now “taking a more technological sort of spin.” He says tools like Citizen, with their patina of officialdom and impartial reporting, “are becoming a license to racially profile and go after some of the most vulnerable community members—particularly the unhoused—and to criminalize them.”’