By Phil Hall | August 31, 2013

Miles O’Brien’s documentary, which originally aired on PBS’ Nova, connects the capture of the Boston Marathon bombers with the significant high-tech advancements within the law enforcement world.

Although the connection between the news event and the technology on display is a bit wobbly – some of the programs featured in this production were not employed by the Boston and federal investigators – it nonetheless offers an interesting overview of how law enforcement is using high-definition video, facial recognition software, bomb chemical analysis, cell phone GPS services and infrared imagery to hunt down criminals.

Part of the problem in the Boston bombings involved unsatisfactory video surveillance coordination – there was no connected municipal network of cameras, thus slowing the data gathering endeavor, and the now-famous videos that identified the bombers were made with low resolution cameras owned by stores along the street. Even worse, well-intended social media junkies at the bombing site posted every photograph and video they had, resulting in an overload of disorganized online material that resulted in several innocent bystanders being slandered as potential bombers.

But the most tragic element of the story was that the FBI already had a file on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the siblings accused of the bombing – but Tsarnaev’s name was misspelled in the file, which delayed the speedy identification of his potential role in the crime. Thus, the film’s ultimate lesson is that the fanciest high-tech solution can easily create problems if the people entering the data cannot do their jobs correctly.

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