Imperial College London

London Police Commissioner talks digital policing at annual Imperial lecture

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Cressida Dick talked about how the police embrace new technologies, but must keep in mind privacy concerns in an increasingly digital world.

Dick spoke at the annual Vincent Briscoe lecture, hosted at Imperial College London’s Institute for Security Science and Technology (ISST).

She began policing in 1983, on foot-patrol in London’s West End. Thirty-five years later she’s now Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and witness to a technological boom that sees us more interconnected and visible than ever before.

In an age of machine-driven revolution and the inevitable cultural shift that goes with it, Dick posed the question of how effectively the police can monitor crime when so much of it now happens online.

However, she says the Met are “becoming increasingly aligned with emerging smart machinery” and encourages national debate about what this means for personal privacy.

Her lecture was introduced by Imperial's Provost Professor Ian Walmsley, and Co-director of the ISST Professor Bill Lee.

“A period of accelerating pace of change”

Most crimes now have some sort of digital element to them, so most of our investigations need some sort of access to personal data. How can we draw a line between intrusiveness and using data to protect the public? Cressida Dick Commissioner, Metropolitan Police

Speaking to an audience at Imperial, Dick remarked on technology's role in the police service, pointing out that we're living in "a period of accelerating pace of change."

Helpful hardware like portable fingerprint-matching scanners, body worn video cameras to gather crime scene evidence, and thermal camera equipped drones have been embraced, but Dick said the Met is also keen to embrace artificial intelligence and machine learning - to predict patterns of crime in certain areas, for example.

Emerging technologies being trialled include facial recognition software to find wanted people, much like how speed cameras capture vehicle registration numbers. However, the police face challenges where new crimes emerge – crimes that would have been much harder to commit before the internet.

Offenders like terrorists, drug dealers, and child abusers are increasingly reliant on computers, phones, and social networks to communicate and organise themselves. While the digital traces are helpful, it also means huge amounts of police time are spent sifting through large amounts of data.

Privacy in a public sphere

However, Dick also touched on the issue of respecting privacy during police work, and called for a national debate on the ethics of using technology and personal data in policing.

She said: “Most crimes now have some sort of digital element to them, so most of our investigations need some sort of access to personal data. How can we draw a line between intrusiveness and using data to protect the public?”Photo of Cressida with Imperial's Provost and Heads of the ISST, in front of Vincent Briscoe lecture branding

(L-R) Imperial Provost Ian Walmsley; ISST Co-director Bill Lee; Cressida Dick; ISST Co-director Chris Hankin

All images: Imperial College London/ISST/Dan Weill

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Caroline Brogan

Caroline Brogan
Communications and Public Affairs

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 3415
Email: caroline.brogan@imperial.ac.uk

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