Category Archives: Technology

Low-cost technology for emergency managers

My friend Shahrzad Rizvi, along with co-author Joshua Kelly, recently published an article in Public Management Magazine titled “Communicating Emergency Information on a Budget.” The article covers low-cost ways for emergency managers to connect with their communities. It highlights social media, new types of alert systems, and free online mapping of public safety concerns. The article includes links to some of these new tools, so I encourage you to check it out.

Quote: Reddit founder on nerdy government

Alexis Ohanian Reflections-Projections ACM 2009

We don’t have enough people in government who understand the Internet and how much Americans care about Internet freedom and digital privacy. But there are things we can do to change that: Part of it is fixing a political system that seems to operate largely on returning favors. Part of it is electing more people who understand this technology. I’d like to see more nerds in office.

–Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, to Wired Magazine, when asked what threatens innovation.

NYC and Chicago have same bike-share problem

Divvy bike programYesterday’s New York Times ran a story about New York City’s difficulties maintaining a balance at the docking stations for its three-month-old bike-share program.  The problem is two-fold: not enough bikes outside near people’s homes in the morning, and not enough spaces to park the bikes near workplaces.

I read this story this morning and, coincidentally, saw the problem first hand in Chicago: A rider pulled up to the Divvy bike station outside my office, but the station was completely full. He just rode off, probably in search of an empty spot.

Currently, both New York and Chicago rely on trucks or vans to pick up bikes from full stations and move them to empty stations. The Times article explains that New York is planning to step up its efforts to provide better balance. The city has leased more spaces to store bikes near popular stations, and the program also is increasing its number of larger trucks, hiring more bike-moving employees, and introducing bike trailers (“bikes that can haul a small number of other bikes attached to them, to negotiate congested areas in which trucks can become snarled in traffic”). This issue of balancing is so crucial to these types of shared mobility programs that academic research is being conducted on how best to manage costs.

A few commentators on the Times article had interesting ideas, suggesting an incentive program where riders could get credit to their account, or even just points on the program’s app, for finding and docking at empty stations. This suggestion is backed by the earlier-mentioned research, which concluded that ”it is possible to trade off reward payouts to customers against the cost of hiring staff to reposition bicycles, in order to minimize operating costs for a given desired service level.” But it might not be necessary, according to commentator David Martin from Paris, who explained the situation there: “Here in Paris, it was an issue during the first year or two, but not now. They figured it out. I really think New York will too. I imagine that the system in NY is computerized, so they have usage data. They can study the problem by looking at the usage data, then figure out solutions. It takes time, but it can be done.” What do you think?

Chicago Mayor Praises Bike Share System

Photo credit: my cellphone

Chicago is celebrating its bike-share program as a big success. The press release stats are impressive: “In just one month Chicagoans have taken 80,000 trips and ridden over 250,000 miles on Divvy Bikes. That’s further than the distance to the moon! The new bike share system now has over 100 stations and is starting to expand into neighborhoods around the city.”

There is one of these racks right outside where I work. I hadn’t heard about it until I saw the bikes there; it reminds me of similar programs in Europe. I was surprised to see that, on most days, a majority of the bikes are checked out. I did see a well-dressed man very frustrated one day, trying furiously to get the bike back into the station by ramming it over and over again. And I heard that it has increased the amount of kamikaze bikers on the sidewalks. Also, of course, not everyone is happy with the bikes as a policy decision: on the mayor’s Facebook page, people were downright upset, with comments ranging from “stop wasting money” to “start focusing on issue X, Y, or Z.” But overall, this is a win for Chicago, in my opinion.

Here’s the link to the press release:

City of Chicago :: Mayor Emanuel Lauds Divvy Bike Share System Early Success.

Efforts to make a smarter Honolulu

Honolulu is, somewhat surprisingly, the 10th largest municipality in the United States. IBM is working with the local government to update its technology—to “build a smarter Honolulu,” as they would say. Here is an interesting video on efforts to provide data to citizens, and the results from those efforts, namely, citizen-created apps. A bus-tracker app is mentioned, and similar apps have been developed in other cities (there are enough apps tracking the CTA in Chicago that it has created, as Jacqui Cheng put it, a “battle of the CTA bus trackers“). The tsunami app is, however, more unique.

The Future of Chicago Manufacturing

gearsA new report issued this week titled “Locating Chicago Manufacturing: The Geography of Production in Metropolitan Chicago,” authored by Howard Wial, Executive Director and Associate Research Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development. The paper seems to subtly advocate that Chicago should be one of the locations for the three new Manufacturing Innovation Institutes announced by President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union address.

Wial concludes that Chicago is a major manufacturing hub, second in manufacturing jobs only to Los Angeles. The Chicago market is specialized, however, in 11 particular manufacturing industries, with the highest earnings coming from the manufacturing of petroleum and coal products and pharmaceuticals.

Wial concisely summarizes what he sees as two of the most important issues for Chicago to address on the Brookings website:

  • Technology.  Chicago specializes in pharmaceutical manufacturing and in a range of moderately high technology industries (non-pharmaceutical chemicals, electrical equipment and appliances, machinery, and petroleum and coal products).  Yet the region lost jobs in very high technology industries (a category that includes pharmaceuticals) during the last two years, while the nation as a whole gained them.  The Chicago area gained jobs in moderately high technology industries, but not as rapidly as the entire United States.  The most promising routes forward for Chicago are to strengthen existing industry specializations with new technologies, build new industries out of those specializations, and support high-wage, high-skill production in all industries.

  • Decentralization.  During the last decade, the city of Chicago and Cook County lost manufacturing jobs more rapidly than most outlying counties in the metropolitan area.  Yet Cook, the metropolitan area’s central county, still has nearly half of all Chicago-area manufacturing jobs.  In manufacturing, as in many other industries, density means higher productivity.  Numerous executives and analysts have underscored the importance of the many benefits that flow from the presence of a dense and regional industrial commons.  Therefore, Chicago-area manufacturing policy should preserve and promote dense agglomerations of manufacturing jobs and try, if possible, to offset the incentives that led manufacturing to decentralize.

Wial also summarizes the report’s key findings here.

I am encouraged to see Chicago’s strength in high-tech manufacturing, and I hope that, as Wial recommends at the end of his report, the numerous efforts to set the course of Chicago manufacturing can coordinate better with one another to strength Chicago’s existing industries. I encourage you to check out the report.

The Fourth Amendment and questionable analogies

Our electronic age has decidedly outdated the go-to analyses for questions about the Fourth Amendment, leaving courts to reach for nondigital analogs for new technology. This reaching sometimes produces shaky results, leading to unclear guidelines for local police officers. To demonstrate, here is a list, in no particular order, of three of the most-questionable analogies.

1. A deleted file = curbside trash

Wheelie BinHat tip to Volokh Conspiracy’s Orin Kerr for recently pointing out United States v. Morgan, Crim No. 03-25-DLB (E.D. Ky. October 15, 2003), which addresses a defendant’s attempt to suppress child-pornography image files from his hard drive and screenshots of the images obtained by his wife. After determining that the wife acted as a private actor in obtaining the screenshots (making them admissible), the court discussed the defendant’s efforts to delete his files using the program “Internet Eraser”:

By attempting to delete the images, Defendant relinquished any expectation of privacy he had in the images themselves. See California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35, 37 (1988) (Defendant has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his curb-side trash). . . . [B]y attempting to delete the pornographic images, Defendant was in essence, trying to throw out the files. In that regard, the facts are similar to Greenwood and its progeny. For these reasons, the Court concludes that Defendant’s relinquishment of any reasonable expectation of privacy in the pornographic images by attempting to delete the images is an alternative basis for denying the suppression motion.

As commentators on Kerr’s post noted, unsuccessfully deleting files is a lot more like partially burning your trash than setting out garbage, as in the latter situation you know the garbage man will have access to it.

2. A cellphone = a cigarette box or similar containers

Hand with Mobile Phone (Imagicity 181)When a person is arrested, police officers are allowed to search within containers found on the person, as in United States v. Robinson, where the Court ruled permissible an officer’s actions of pulling drugs out of a cigarette box found inside a person’s jacket. Some courts have applied this analysis to data stored on cellphones. See United States v. Finley, 477 F.3d 250, 259-60 (5th Cir. 2007).

The problems with this approach have been explained by the Seventh Circuit:

The potential invasion of privacy in a search of a cell phone is greater than in a search of a “container” in a conventional sense even when the conventional container is a purse that contains an address book (itself a container) and photos. Judges are becoming aware that a computer (and remember that a modern cell phone is a computer) is not just another purse or address book. “[A]nalogizing computers to other physical objects when applying Fourth Amendment law is not an exact fit because computers hold so much personal and sensitive information touching on many private aspects of life. . . . [T]here is a far greater potential for the `inter-mingling’ of documents and a consequent invasion of privacy when police execute a search for evidence on a computer.” United States v. Lucas, 640 F.3d 168, 178 (6th Cir.2011); see also United States v. Walser, 275 F.3d 981, 986 (10th Cir.2001)United States v. Carey, 172 F.3d 1268, 1275 (10th Cir.1999); cf. United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., 621 F.3d 1162, 1175-77 (9th Cir.2010); United States v. Otero, 563 F.3d 1127, 1132 (10th Cir.2009).

3. DNA evidence = fingerprints

Fingerprints close-upAgain, hat tip to Orin Kerr, who points out this language from Raynor v. State from the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland:

DNA evidence, when used for identification purposes only, is akin to fingerprint evidence. And, although fingerprint evidence is suppressible if it is obtained in the course of an unlawful detention, see Hayes v. Florida, 470 U.S. 811, 816, 105 S.Ct. 1643, 84 L.Ed.2d 705 (1985)Davis v. Mississippi, 394 U.S. 721, 727, 89 S.Ct. 1394, 22 L.Ed.2d 676 (1969), the fingerprinting process itself “involves none of the probing into an individual’s private life and thoughts that marks an interrogation or search.”See United States v. Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1, 15, 93 S.Ct. 764, 35 L.Ed.2d 67 (1973) (quoting Davis, 394 U.S. at 727, 89 S.Ct. 1394).

Thus, even if appellant could demonstrate a subjective expectation of privacy in his DNA profile, he nonetheless had no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in it because it was used for identification purposes only. As in Williamson, the police were in lawful possession of the item from which the DNA was collected. In Williamson, the cup from which the DNA was collected came into police possession when the suspect discarded it in the holding cell; here, the chair in the police barracks was, from the outset, in the possession of the police. Thus, like the analysis of a latent fingerprint, which involves no physical intrusion into the body and is used for identification purposes only, the analysis in the instant case of DNA evidence, which was in the lawful possession of the police, was not a constitutionally protected search.

Kerr explains why this analogy is questionable:

Fingerprint evidence is on the surface. It is often visible to the unaided eye, and anyone can pick it up. In contrast, obtaining a DNA sample requires extracting it from a sample, in ways that in some ways resemble drug testing of urine samples. Although the law isn’t totally clear on this, there is some authority for the view that the extraction may make a Fourth Amendment difference, see Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Assn (1989) (holding that collection and drug-testing of a urine sample is a search, in part because of what the chemical analysis reveals). I think you can see the questionable fit here in the court’s suggestion that limiting the use of the DNA sample to identification purposes is important: It’s not clear to me how that could be right, given that the Fourth Amendment does not impose use restrictions.

There are several other questionable analogies—the many times computer record are compared to paper records, for example—though of course analogies are usually the best courts can do. Any to add to this list?

Google Glass promo showcases potentials for city life

Google released a new promo video for its exciting Glass project, which is essentially augmented-reality glasses. The video focuses on the chat and image-capture features, but there is a shot near the middle of a person diving through a city and getting directions, and another shot near the end of the glasses providing flight information. I see three top uses for this technology in city life: (1) transit info, (2) driving directions, (3) information about nearby attractions and restaurants. Could we also see people walking around video-chatting as they would with a cellphone? Only time will tell.

Interactive Map of Chicago Crime, Ward by Ward

As a follow up to yesterday’s post about the SimCity zoning map of Chicago, I’d like to point out that the map is a collection of interactive apps developed by Open City based largely on information from Chicago’s data portal. A couple of other apps by this project that I think are really interesting are the Crime in Chicago app, which lets you compare crime ward by ward, and breaks down the most frequent crime and even the time of day it was committed, and the How’s Business app,  which gives a snapshot view of economic indicators pulled from various sources. These are the types of innovative apps that show the powerful potential for open data.

Statistics on Crime in Chicago Wards

Chicagoans can now complete most 311 tasks by text

As covered by Government Technology, Chicago has upgraded the ChiTEXT component of its 311 system to allow citizens to complete most 311 tasks via text. Texts will prompt a series of scripted questions to better identify the problem: For a pot hole, for example, you may get asked if it’s near a curb line or looks like a sinkhole.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is that 311ers can track online their ticket’s progress as it moves through the city’s internal departments. This service is unique to Chicago, says the city’s CTO.

Best of all, use of the technology added no costs, because it was already included as a feature by Motorola, the city’s customer-service vendor. Kudos to Chicago for making strides toward more open and efficient government!