Cressida Dick talked about how the police embrace new technologies, but must keep in mind privacy concerns in an increasingly digital world.
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.
“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?”
All images: Imperial College London/ISST/Dan Weill
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
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