Monday, April 8, 2013

UK - Think tank calls for a unitary police intelligence centre working on social media both listening and talking

Demos has published a report entitled Policing in an Information Age:
The widespread adoption of social media is one such change. Social media allows the police to engage and include the public in law enforcement in new, potentially transformative ways. But it also makes these engagements more difficult to control, and open to misuse and reputational damage. It allows the police to gather powerful, recent and possibly decisive intelligence – social media intelligence or ‘SOCMINT’ - in the interests of public safety. But there is a risk that this will be done in a way that is unsound, unsafe, and radically undermining of public trust. Social media is a new source of evidence for enforcement purposes, but also a new theatre of crime.

All forces in the UK have some presence on Twitter, with accounts for senior police officers, central communications, neighbourhood, helicopter, road and football policing teams.

The provision of legitimate, timely, decisive and robust SOCMINT can contribute decisively to public safety. Using social media to ‘crowd-source’ information is an important way of gaining valuable intelligence. ‘Listening’ to social media using powerful ‘big data’ acquisition and analytics tools can help the police spot emerging events, piece together networks and groups, discern public attitudes and improve situational awareness. More intrusive forms of intelligence collection – such as the use of intercept or covert human intelligence – may also be useful, although they will be used less frequently. It is likely that SOCMINT will become an increasingly important source of intelligence for the police. However, it requires a clear set of guidelines and regulations to ensure it is proportionate and based on broad public consent.

There is an opportunity for British police to be world-leaders in the ethical, effective and cost-saving use of social media.

A centralised SOCMINT ‘hub’ should be created. The Police need to evolve and strengthen SOCMINT capabilities. A single, networked hub of excellence and a managed network of experts should coordinate SOCMINT development across different branches of the police.

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