The Home Office is to invest £5 million towards the development of ‘innovative technologies’ that will help police forces predict and prevent crime.
The funding will be given to the West Midlands Police so they may run further test on a data analysis system that can process large volumes of data that are currently held by the force.
The National Data Analytics Solution (NDAS) has already undergone one year of testing in which it was used to process data relating to individuals who have previously committed knife and gun crimes. The force believes that the system can help them identify patterns and common traits associated with these types of crimes.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid commented in a release that: “I fully support the police embracing innovative new technology in the fight against crime and to protect the most vulnerable victims. Anything we can do to stay one step ahead of the criminals should be welcomed – providing it is rigorously tested and ethically sound. I look forward to seeing the results of this West Midlands trial.”
Once the system has been fully tested it is ‘hoped’ that it will be rolled out to police force across England and Wales.
National Data Analytics Solution and Gangs Matrix
Addressing concerns about potential bias that may accompany a poorly structured machine learning system, Superintendent Nick Dale, who leads on NDAS for West Midlands Police, commented that: “We are still at an early stage in identifying how best machine learning technology can be used, but it is really important that our work is scrutinised independently from an ethical point of view, and that technology will never replace professional judgement or affect the police’s accountability for our actions.”
In the past UK police force use of data has come under scrutiny from watchdogs and authorities alike for data breaches.
Previously sensitive police database detailing 203 alleged gang members and the weapons they are believed to carry was leaked by a London council in January 2017 and subsequently fell into gang hands.
A report from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed that the Newham Council’s borough subsequently experienced a “number of incidents of serious gang violence after a report was shared on Snapchat. The unredacted database had included alleged gang affiliation, dates of birth, home addresses, and information on whether they were a prolific firearms offender or knife carrier.
Victims of the violence included people who featured on the so-called “Gangs Matrix” the ICO notes, adding it cannot definitely link the breach and the violence.
Fining Newham council £145,000 this week, the data watchdog said: “It is not possible to say whether there was a causal connection between any individual incidents of violence and the data breach. The ICO does highlight the significant harm and distress that can be caused when this type of sensitive personal information is not kept secure.”