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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Investigation in New York

The first and foremost function of government is law and order, the proper functioning of police and judiciary.

US authorities have built up an impressive track record for getting hold of the bad guys after an attack. In the case of the bombing attempt at Times Square, investigators got the attacker 53 hours after the attack, and in the nick of time before he'd make it to Dubai. The New York Times is doing a great job of telling the story:
With such high quality investigative capabilities, each time an attack takes place against a US target, a part of the terrorist network gets lit up and taken out. This also exerts a deterrent effect. I am reminded of first Iraq war: Iraqi soldiers were so intimidated by the rapid and accurate return fire based on gun-laying radar, that they often refused to switch on their field artillery. Effective responses are a powerful deterrent.

When such police capabilities were not put into place, there is a greater temptation for policemen to ask for restrictions of human freedom in order to make their life easier. As an example, open wifi networks are banned in India but are legal in every other democracy that I can think of: This is a testimony to the incompetence of the police. It reminds me of the police having banned mobile phones for many years in J&K. High quality investigation is hard work, and interfering with personal freedom is easy. It is only in a police state that a policeman's job is easy.

For a contrast to the investigation in New York, the court threw out the claims of the police on two suspects in the Bombay attacks. Also see Mustafa Plumber and Sukanya Shetty, reporting in the Indian Express. This speaks well for the honesty and independence of the courts, but badly for the capabilities of the police in tracking down the actual perpetrators.

In a positive development, the Indian Supreme Court has blocked the use by police of narco-analysis and brain-mapping. In my mind, these have been a mixture of ineffective snake oil and torture. See reportage
by Rahul Chandran and Jacob P. Koshy in Mint, and by Vinay Sitapati in the Indian Express. Also see this editorial in the Indian Express.

1 comment:

  1. The speed of the investigation was quite remarkable, and it was greatly helped that the vehicle was not destroyed, so they were able to trace it back to the guy quickly.

    When I recently went to title my new car - all I had to do was give them my license number, and they could retrieve the rest of the info from the centralized system. Very impressive how efficient processes become when different systems are linked and can be accessed easily.


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