The Leith Police’s algorithm dismisseth us
Posted on 24th February 2020
The, slightly altered, famous tongue-twister* in our headline is simply by way of introduction to an article I read this week about the use of algorithms by the police to predict who (specifically young people) might become violent criminals in the future. Part of the research being done by the police to make this work involves using a database of 200,000 offenders in order to “identify individuals who are likely to transition from a state of low- to high-harm offending and deliver interventions to prevent them from doing so.”
What’s not to like? The polis identify people who might cause crime before they do it and scoop them up before they can harm you and me. Public 1, Criminals 0 sums it up – or does it? Suppose the police make a mistake, because the technology has “made a mistake?” It’s not as if technology is infallible, is it?
A report, by the defence and security think tank the Royal United Services Institute, has, correctly in my view, warned of the danger of a lack of safeguards in all this. Bearing in mind that a judge has just pronounced that Britain is in danger of slipping into an Orwellian society, following the alleged ‘hate crime’ incident involving a former police officer, Harry Miller, the concern is that such an approach will lead to the police making opinion-based decisions rather than evidence-based decisions. The controversy over the alleged police remark to Mr Miller, that they were there to “check his thinking” (denied by the policeman concerned) illustrates where we could end up. It’s incumbent on the IT industry to get this right as much as it is the police, but, ultimately, it’s up to the latter - and indeed society as a whole – to determine what is acceptable use of such technology and what isn’t.
Paul Strachan, Be-IT
*if you haven’t heard of this one, try saying “the Leith Police Dismisseth Us” three times, as quickly as you can.
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