Tech Talk

States Turn to Technology to Calculate Prison Sentences

America incarcerates a lot of people -- more than any other country. We have only 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. With approximately 2.4 million people behind bars, including 1.36 million in state prisons, that’s roughly 1 in 99 people locked up.

We may also have the most complex sentencing system in the world. Along with the vast number of criminal offenses (there were 4,450 federal crimes in the U.S. Code in 2008), there's an array of rules and exceptions that impact a defendant’s sentence. These include the severity of the crime, the number of offenses committed, credits for time already served, and the defendant’s criminal history. READ MORE

States Use Big Data to Nab Tax Fraudsters

It’s tax season again. For most of us, that means undergoing the laborious and thankless task of assembling financial records and calculating taxes for state and federal returns. But for a small group of us, tax season is profit season. It’s the time of year when fraudsters busy themselves with stealing identities and electronically submitting fraudulent tax returns for refunds.

Nobody knows for sure just how much tax return fraud is committed, but the amount is rising fast. According to the U.S. Treasury, the number of identified fraudulent federal returns has increased by 40 percent from 2011 to 2012, an increase of more than $4 billion. Ten years ago, New York state stopped refunds on 50,000 fraudulently filed tax returns. Last year, the number of stopped refunds was 250,000, according to Nonie Manion, executive deputy commissioner for the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance. READ MORE

A Security Dilemma for Smart Devices

In 2009, three men got their hands on one of San Francisco’s smart parking meters and in three days were able to break into its electronic system and figure out how to use the meter without paying. The hackers weren’t thieves but part of a group of security researchers who wanted to find the weaknesses in this promising new technology.

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Tardy Transit? Tweet About It

Tweeting a complaint or suggestion, even posting one on Facebook, is old hat in the private sector. After all, you can use an app these days to, say, hail a ride on Uber, Lyft or Sidecar. But if you encounter a bad driver or surly ticket agent while riding public transportation, there’s no app for that (or an easy way to tweet directly at an agency, for that matter). Times are changing, though, and public transit agencies are finally catching up.

This past December, New Jersey Transit decided to send some of its front-line employees to get retrained in customer relations. Officials weren’t prompted by comments submitted through the usual online form, however. They were spurred to action by tweets and posts on Facebook. Employee behavior was a top issue on the agency’s social media dashboard. READ MORE

Governments Making It Easier for Citizens to Know the Law

In 2012, Dave Zvenyach, chief counsel for the District of Columbia City Council, received a phone call from a software developer who wanted a copy of the D.C. Code, which contains all the laws enacted by the D.C. Council.

“I told him he could find the official code at the city’s library, where it’s stored in books,” said Zvenyach. But the developer wanted a digital copy and all the underlying data (the special language that allows text files to be used in different ways) that it contained. The problem was Zvenyach didn’t have a digital copy, nor could he obtain one because of restrictions imposed by the code’s publisher. READ MORE