Law enforcement and security agencies face big data challenge

Law enforcement and security agencies face the same big data challenge as business, according to Unisys

Law enforcement and security agencies face the same big data challenge as business, according to John Wright, global director of public safety and justice solutions at Unisys.

Predictive data analytics has the potential to add a lot of value, but its full potential is often not realised because relevant data is locked in dozens of separate data silos.

Many agencies are not able to make sense of the wealth of data they hold and, in some instances, are not able to connect individuals or groups of interest that are working together.

Wright, who has worked in UK counter terrorism, told Computer Weekly that for a variety of legislative, legacy system and historical process restraints, it is still a challenge “to connect the dots”.

“Information technology is widely used by law enforcement and security agencies, especially to support counter terrorism efforts, but many are still not sharing information effectively,” he said.

Information sharing across departments and agencies is vital, said Wright, and has delivered results where it has been achieved.

For example, Unisys supports the use of facial recognition technology to detect when one person is using multiple passports, potentially taken out using different names.

“But without the necessary skills, funding and technologies, security and law enforcement agencies will not be able to get the most benefit out of the data at their disposal,” said Wright.

This is especially true in UK policing, where staff lack the training and technology to make use of the information available through social media that could help investigations.

According to Wright, a significant problem is that there is not enough focus on building a richer overall picture from a wide variety of data sources.

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“This requires an understanding of the opportunities that combining multiple sources of information presents and finding the right technologies to get the right results,” he said.

Security and law enforcement agencies need to ensure they have the right people with the right skills shaping their technology strategies and transforming processes to be more collaborative.

Wright believes that unless law enforcement and security agencies adopt a more collaborative approach to enable information sharing and correlation, they will always be behind the curve.

“A lot is being done in individual agencies and departments in the UK to achieve incremental progress, but the government needs to lead a wider reform to enable the step change that is needed,” he said.

Wright believes that without a government-led co-ordinated effort, the UK will not push forward with its data intelligence capabilities at the required rate to achieve a more proactive stance.

He cites as an example the failure of UK authorities to use all available data sources to prevent three schoolgirls from leaving the country to travel to Syria to join Islamic State forces.

“One of the girls had correspondence on Twitter with a girl already known to authorities for visiting Syria to join Isis. This is something that should have been picked up before they left the country,” he said.

Estonia has achieved a much higher level of data sharing between law enforcement and security agencies because, unlike the UK, there is far greater integration between agencies and departments.

“The security and law enforcement landscape in Estonia is far less diverse than the UK and is not split up into multiple agencies and police forces,” said Wright.

The benefits of predictive analytics should not be underestimated, he said, because of its ability to minimise the number of false positives, provide a greater bread of information to investigators and help prioritise the allocation of resources.

“All these benefits can cut costs and improve efficiency at every level of the investigative process to enable earlier intervention and better mitigation of threats,” said Wright.

Just as the insurance industry shares information for mutual benefit in the commercial world, he said law enforcement and security agencies need to achieve the same level of collaboration to raise their game.

“There is always going to be tension between privacy and gathering intelligence data, but once again the technologies exist to ensure good data governance as required by the law,” said Wright.

“Predictive data intelligence will highlight only important data, and mechanisms can be put in to ensure proper oversight, governance and transparency,” he said.

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