Digital fingerprints are identifying Capitol rioters

Recent years have seen a dramatic flourishing of digital technologies. In our book, “Turning Point: Policymaking in the Era of Artificial Intelligence,” Brookings President John Allen and I describe major advances in social media, mobile technology, facial recognition, financial technology, and internet-based platforms over the past few decades. People are communicating via social media sites and text messages, exchanging money and finding lodgings online, and posting pictures and videos that document when, where, and at what time they engaged in various activities.

Following the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, it, therefore, is not surprising that many of these tools have been deployed to identify rioters, find those who engaged in violence and vandalism, and use that evidence to indict suspects. Many of the rioters left detailed digital fingerprints that document their movements, communications, viewpoints, and financing. Taken together, the information gathered before, during, and after the riot demonstrates how technology enables both insurrection and legal accountability.

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