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Of mice and data (Policing and Video Information)

by Andrew White  |  April 10, 2015  |  Comments Off on Of mice and data (Policing and Video Information)

There was an intriguing article in today’s US print edition of the Wall Street journal.  It was titled, “Police Cameras Create Problems of Their Own“.  The article explores the burgeoning growth of digital data swamping police and legal services and more and more officers are capturing more and more of their daily work.  The reason this data is important is that it can help solve crime and apportion blame.  The benefits sound self-evident. However, the problems are many:


  • Where and how to keep the data?
  • How long to keep the data?
  • How to make the data ‘findable’?
  • What about freedom of information?
  • What about privacy?
  • What about digital ethical issues?
  • What about security?

The list is endless.  And though these are not new to any records manager or eDiscovery director, they are new to the police, a new use-case, and also new in terms of scale and growth trajectory.  The article identified how one simple case of drunk and disorderly behavior consumed many hours of work sifting through video information looking for insight to help the case.  Was this efficient use of anyone’s time?  Who knows?  Who decides when it is, or when enough time is spent searching?  And this is all before the analysis of the results are even determined.

I particularly like thinking about the “findable” and the digital ethics question.  The findable issue hints at metadata management – a very old, dry topic that leaves most business people, and I include police officers here, cold and bored.  But we do need to consider how we distill context from the video.  We can ask users to tag the content; we can use graph and visual analytic engines to extract meaning from what is captured.  And we then need to catalog automatically the treasure trove, and create (again, automatically) the cross-index of tags.  On top of this we need a cool semantic search engine.  Voila.

The digital ethics is much more interesting because we can’t easily write the rule or policy that will cater to this complication.  The complication arises when pieces of information are gathered, individually quite correctly and in compliance with all rules, but once connected some other insight is determined that was not predicted.  And this insight is – perhaps – creepy or unethical.  This is very hard to prevent – not least because we can’t easily predict what will be discovered.  Thus it might be better not to spend hours thinking up what might happen, but instead put in place a process whereby results have to be shared with independent users acting as overseers.  This sounds like big brother – but it might help us in the short-term until we get better at defining the unknown unknowns in our burgeoning data lakes.

Guidelines, policy and process are much needed – and of course we have overlapping jurisdictions, a need to share data with other departments and states, and also compliance with any Homeland Security.  So this is a right pickle brewing nicely, to mix my metaphors.  As with the book from which my blog title was taken (Of Mice and Men), I am sure the answers will become apparent when enough distance has been traveled. However, there is a lot of learning to be had along the way.

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Category: digital-ethics  information-governance  information-organization  information-policy  information-risk-management  information-sharing  information-trust  law  metadata-management  policing  security-of-applications-and-data  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

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