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Catching up with VALCRI: Harnessing Big Data to successfully fight crime

In February 2018, we covered the VALCRI project in our special section on ‘New technologies for fighting crime’. We talked to project coordinator, Prof. William Wong, on how VALCRI was developing a highly promising criminal intelligence analysis system based on visual analytics and cognitive engineering. VALCRI ended in June 2018. Prof. Wong has been telling us how the development of their system has progressed.

Digital Economy
Security

The rollout of the VALCRI (Visual Analytics for Sense-making in CRiminal Intelligence analysis) system has continued to be a high priority for Prof. Wong and his team. “Since summer 2018, we have made contact with police forces within and outside the EU, and the VALCRI system has been installed at secure sites with these forces,” states Prof. Wong. “We anticipate starting trials with actual data in early 2019.” Overcoming the privacy conundrum One of the most important issues to arise during the project concerned privacy and data protection. “It was not a simple matter of just restricting data access, but rather for example understanding how, once a person’s profile is enmeshed in the data used to calculate the profiles and networks of criminals and criminal activities, it becomes extremely difficult for a person ‘to be forgotten’ if he or she is later found to be innocent,” explains Prof. Wong. “Understanding the specific nature of the [privacy] challenges allowed us to develop new approaches and designs that incorporate ethical and privacy considerations from the start rather than as a later add-on to the design.” Part of the VALCRI team spent two years trying to anonymise around one million records in the dataset being used to develop the VALCRI system. Another team was tasked with trying to de-anonymise the data. “Over six months they were unfortunately able to discover the identity of one individual, meaning the dataset could not be released as originally planned,” says Prof. Wong. “While it is easy enough to randomly anonymise data, anonymising data while retaining meaningful relationships between entities across multiple datasets is a significant challenge.” Although the dataset couldn’t be released publicly, VALCRI partners did obtain permission for it to be re-used in a newer Horizon 2020 project, SPIRIT. Onwards and upwards As the VALCRI system moves towards the trials stage, the project team are confident that their experiences will help them to ensure the system is fully compliant with European privacy laws. Indeed, 2019 looks to be an exciting year for Prof. Wong and his team. “New jobs have been created to develop VALCRI into products that police end-users will be able to purchase and deploy, and during the trials, the system will also be studied to ascertain how expert investigators and analysts could use the technology to extend their investigative capacities,” concludes Prof. Wong. “We believe that VALCRI, when fully operational, will give law enforcement agencies the power of information to protect the freedom and security of Europe and its citizens.”

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8 March 2019