• -
4th S10- Security image[2][1] copy

Why Is Data Important In Countering Terrorism?

Tags :

Category : Blogs

The type of security threats that countries, individuals and companies face today are far more advanced and multifaceted than at any point in history. Improvements in internet access and social media have meant that online terror is far more prevalent than ever before. The ability to operate virtually without detection has made organised terrorism more straightforward.

Fortunately, the methods and techniques used to counter these threats have also gained in strength.

The Snooper’s Charter

Since they came to power in May the conservatives have proposed the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ –  otherwise known as the Draft Communications Data Bill – which is designed to increase the surveillance powers of the police and secret services.

The bill will force internet service providers and mobile phone companies to keep huge amounts of data on their customers and to make that information available to the government and security services. This will create a giant database of information based on people’s online behaviour patterns with the aim of enhancing the security services’ ability to predict and prevent threats – both on and offline.

In the USA, more than 50 terrorist attacks were prevented* after similar programmes were implemented, which enabled the tracking of phone calls and internet data. This facilitated the running of models to analyse all that information (on a daily basis) in order to highlight any anomalies.

The Power Of Data

This is where data comes into its own. Without strong data mining and modelling techniques all that information would be irrelevant.

Data mining has become an essential tool for detecting and preventing terrorism since it is designed to extract useful patterns and trends from huge records, that would otherwise go undetected. The challenge is basically to find a needle in a haystack. This ability to identify concealed online activities that could signify terrorism or fraud is currently used by banks and other financial institutions to protect their customers.

Hadoop has also come to the forefront in the past few years. Its ability to work with unstructured data has the potential to provide answers to the security services’ complex problems.

The Big Questions

How best to use data analysis to counter terrorism, what tools to use (whether clusters, associations or anomaly detections) and what the tangible outcomes should be, are all still very much in debate.

The most effective way to translate unstructured data, like audio and video feeds, into something meaningful, also remains unresolved. There is even a question around whether or not real time model building is currently able to deal with the level of real time threats.

Once we solve all this we still need to ensure that the outputs of this data collection programme are beneficial and that the information gathered is done so in a responsible way. There needs to be a way to guarantee that security services don’t arrest an innocent person or ignore a potential threat.

What’s Next?

There are numerous groups and companies working towards this; working to improve the speed and accuracy of large data modelling and analysis in real time. Some come from a security view point, while others have a more commercial focus.

Google and Microsoft, for example, continually produce more advanced algorithms and real time analysis and modelling using the vast amounts of data that is available to them.

Since many of the data issues faced by the security services are the same as those encountered by commercial businesses, these advances mean that answers to some crucial questions might not be far away.

Security Vs. Privacy

There is of course always an argument against this kind of data collection – both from a security and a commercial view. Is this the ‘big brother state’ coming into play? Do our liberties suffer if the government is allowed to view everyone’s personal information? Are, as it has been suggested by human rights group, Liberty, ‘terror attacks a price we should be willing to pay to protect us from being snooped on’?

The government is already able to listen to posts and monitor a large amount of material in order to uncover potential terror threats. But they are currently only able to access a small part of the web to do this.

The question is: how much personal freedom are we willing to trade in for the potential safeties that the government can bring?

* These included an imminent threat to the New York Stock Exchange and to the New York subway system

Sign up for our newsletter