The Modern Manhunt: Boston

// Posted by on 04/21/2013 (11:44 PM)

One week ago, the United States was rocked by a tragedy that Obama stated was the worst act of terrorism since 9/11. The Boston Marathon Bombings occurred in the afternoon at an event with thousands of people congregated for celebrations and accomplishments. Nobody anticipated such a horrible act on such a cheerful occasion. Once the explosions occurred, the witnesses were instantly floored to find answers. Who did it? Why? How did they get away with it? Spencer Ackerman, of Wired, said in the aftermath of the bombings the law enforcement agents were left with “a huge problem and nearly no leads.”

The law enforcement agents used the only information available to them: The Crowd. The explosions took place near the finish line in Copley Square, one of the busiest and most congested areas of the day. Aside from the implications of the space for injuries, the space also provided an arena underĀ  surveillance by bystanders’ smartphones and retailers’ camera. There was an abundance of photos and videos ready to be explored. Despite some reluctance in using these digital media tools, the police went ahead with pursuing leads provided by the public. Because the police and FBI allowed civilians to help formulate a case, within days they had their suspects. Thousands of videos and photos of the area were submitted and agents had to dig through for patterns of suspicious behavior.

What happened in Boston was truly horrible, but the events that followed were just as inspiring. The city of Boston unified as a collective unit to solve a time-sensitive and dangerous situation. Google launched Person Finder to assist in finding missing persons or submitting information about someone. The Boston Globe created a GoogleDoc to provide housing to those in need after the tragedy. In a city with millions of people, one tragedy instantly transformed strangers into coworkers as the hive mind worked to solve the crime and apprehend the suspect.

I think the events in Boston show the future of security in a positive light. At some points throughout the class I have felt like we are moving into an age of “organized anarchy,” where the Internet is so vast that security could not possibly cover all realms. The Boston Marathon Bombings were an encouraging symbol of the American spirit and the potential benefits of collective intelligence. The large-scale problem solving through such a large crowd was only made possible by the help of police, FBI, and the public. Looking forward, how can the public and collective problem-solving concepts help avoid these situations? Multiple cameras caught the bombers on camera, but it wasn’t until after the event that the activity was noticed as suspicious. We must work to develop a means of preventing these acts of terrorism through collective intelligence in order to prevent deaths and tragedies.

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