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MI5 and the Met ramp up use of analytics to tackle terrorism

Police and intelligence organisations are working on technologies that will help “sharpen radars” around detecting terrorist intents

MI5 and the Metropolitan Police are looking into greater use of data analytics to support activities around tackling terrorist threats.

In an update on progress made following the review on the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester in 2017, Andrew Parker, director general of MI5, and Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Met, said the organisations would be improving the use of data to identify people with terrorist intent before they act.

MI5 and the Met said they had identified ways in which advances in the field of data could enable them to “sharpen their radar” and increase insight.

“There is no magic solution, but there are valuable gains to be made by going further in data analytics and related technologies with parts of the private sector. We have made important progress already,” the organisations said in a joint statement.

The enhanced data capability would be used in combination with knowledge from behavioural science experts, the statement said. It is hoped the new analytics set-up will provide an “earlier and richer picture” of potential terrorist activity, it added.

Improved analytics could also help the police and MI5 to identify more quickly when individuals known to them from the past re-engage with terrorism.

Increased data sharing at a local level is another intention set out in the statement, with several pilots taking place to build a national scheme that will see information shared between MI5 and the police and bodies such as health and social services departments.

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Use of data-driven technologies should be the norm in ensuring public safety, but accompanying regulation should also be introduced, according to a recent report by independent think tank the Police Foundation.

The research questioned the ethics and public anxiety around using algorithms in decisions that “can have profound implications for both procedural fairness and individual human lives”.

Challenges related to use of algorithms in policing raised by the report included potential data misuse by police forces, implications for personal privacy, and building predictive models on the basis of inevitably biased and inaccurate data.

The report urged the creation of privacy and ethics commissions into the governance structures of police forces to address privacy concerns around surveillance technologies, as well as clear regulations for algorithms so that citizens know where they stand.

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