Privacy SOS

High tech equipment thus far fails to catch alleged cop killer in PA

The high tech military equipment federal grant and gift programs have bestowed on state and local law enforcement isn't helping Pennsylvania police find a man they say killed a state trooper before fleeing into the woods.

The NY Daily News reports:

Law enforcement officers have employed everything from sticks to a $269,000 bullet-proof front-end loader with a battering ram and night vision to search for the man wanted for allegedly killing Blooming Grove Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounding another trooper.

While police wouldn't say what other equipment is being used in the hunt for Eric Frein, it's likely that PA officials have called in aerial surveillance planes or drones from the Department of Homeland Security or FBI. It's also likely that police are using Stingray cell phone sniffers to try to find Frein. But drones—even drones with heat tracking video surveillance technology—and cell phone sniffers don't translate into success against an adversary who is prepared for them. Presumably Frein left his cell phone at home, and knows about thermal imaging technology and how to avoid it.

The failure of all these high tech tools in the hunt for the alleged cop killer is another example of what I call the security paradox. Most people don't go out of their way to avoid systems of monitoring and control because doing so would complicate our daily lives. We carry cell phones because we need to use them for work and personal correspondence. We don't plan our day around how to avoid being seen by surveillance cameras or thermal imaging systems. Therefore ordinary people are easy targets for persistent tracking and monitoring. But criminals who want to avoid the eye of the authorities can opt out of most kinds of tracking by studying surveillance systems and taking careful steps to avoid them.

It looks like Frein has been studying. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in arming our police like small militaries, he's thus far been successful in hiding from them.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.