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Police turn to software fortune telling

by on30 October 2014

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We will arrest you on the basis of our software

London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has carried out a  20-week study to see if it can accurately predict whether specific gang members are likely to commit violence.

Developed by Accenture, the software pulls data together from systems already used by the MPS and runs it through an analytics engine. The software looks at geography, past offenses, associations with other criminal, social media postings and the liver of a fat ram (we made the last one up).

The system would record and analyse threats or negative comments made by gang members on social media, for example.

Prior to launching the pilot, police analyzed data on London gangs in 32 boroughs for a period of four years to see who was most likely to commit mayhem. That study was then compared to actual acts of violence recorded in its crime logs. The MPS said the experiment accurately pinpointed future villains, though it would not divulge which criteria it used for its predictions.

Needless to say there are few people who have a problem with technology being used in this way. Big Brother Watch, a UK privacy think-tank, told the BBC that such programs "run the risk of unfairly targeting certain groups of people" and unfairly stigmatizing them.

Similar arguments have been made against NSA surveillance or New York City's now-defunct "stop and frisk" program, for instance -- both of targeted specific minority groups.

The MPS replied that the new study is focused on gang violence only, and is simply a way to fight crime efficiently given its limited resources.


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