Big Data was always around in some form or another. At some point, businesses decided to use that information to learn what makes their clients tick with phrases like "sales funnel analysis", "actionable insights", and "positive business impact". So it stands to reason that Big Data was viewed through green (read: money) colored lenses.
Somewhere along the line, however, someone realized that collecting and processing data doesn’t have to be for business purposes only, but could also be used to assist law enforcement. Maybe it was our beloved NSA that got the ball rolling when they decided to surveil every conversation in the world to see if people were talking about doing bad things (say what you will about what they did and how they did it, but the intent behind it was to catch bad guys).
One of the more encompassing projects belongs to The Department of Homeland Security. The Future Attribute Screening Technology project, aka FAST identifies potential terrorists by using computers in a mobile lab to monitor individuals' vital signs, body language, and other physiological patterns. By seeing which people exhibit signs of nervousness, as well as their reactions to certain situations, law enforcement officials can deduce which people might be up to something. Obviously a project of this nature has many kinks to work out, specifically that merely traveling can trigger the type of behaviors that could set off alarms. But still, to think that we can analyze real-time data to predict mal-intent, it’s pretty cool.
Other law enforcement agencies from the national level all the way on down to the municipal level are using available data to catch criminals and in some cases even prevent crime. A rising number of cities and towns in the US are starting to use predictive policing. Meaning, they use big-data analysis to see which areas, groups, and people could require extra attention, further investigation, or an increased presence in a particular area.
RTM Dx, a crime prevention application developed by researchers at Rutgers University, is one such app that does so and is already being used by police departments in Colorado, Texas, Missouri, New Jersey, Arizona, and Illinois. RTM Dx is an app that uses geolocation and crime data to measure the spatial correlation between where the crimes have occurred in relation to different features of the environment such as nightclubs or bars. With that, officers can measure correlations between various sites and crime rates and then decide which of these correlations are worth monitoring and pursuing.
LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ Social Media Monitor is a SaaS that aids in catching bad guys. Social Media Monitor scours social networking sites and allows users to monitor information from posts, status updates, and profiles. Obviously criminals aren’t the sharpest tacks in the box, and they are known to leave clues or even flat out brag about crimes they’ve committed. Social Media Monitor takes the information that it gathered from the various networking sites, allows the user to filter for certain terms, locations, trends, and identify updates or tweets within a specific geo-location. For example, if an officer knows there has been a spate of robberies in a certain region, he can filter social network data by area and certain terms pertaining to the crime. If the perp has updates relating to or admitting guilt, that information can be used against him...in a court of law.
Police in Ft. Lauderdale have partnered up with IBM for a project to analyze various crime related data sources using a combination of advanced analytics technologies. The project will process data from 911 records, criminal records, municipal code enforcement and more. It will focus on spotting trends in location and timing of events. According to IBM, the program will allow for "deeper level of knowledge regarding possible contributing factors of crimes and foresee the demand for service at a more granular level of time and location..." enabling the city to "to move operations from reactive to proactive, leading to a safer city."
Even though not directly crime-related, a new app called Badge Buddy assists police officers with everyday information that dispatchers typically provide. From phone numbers for local FBI offices to state laws and ordinances, Badge Buddy relieves congestion on the dispatcher so they can focus on higher priority calls, resulting in quicker response times for those that really need it.
This is all obviously the tip of the iceberg. As technologies evolve, so too will the processes be used to capture bad guys. We saw in Batman The Dark Knight how he used every cell phone in Gotham to work together and act as a sonar, in order to create an image of the city and track the Joker. We’re not there yet (at least not that we know of), but these technologies and those that follow will bring us closer to tracking and finding the bad guys. Hopefully the people that use the technologies are as morally incorruptible as Batman.