Ensuring Ethics and Privacy in combating organised crime in the digital age

COPKIT is developing data-driven policing technologies to support Law Enforcement Agencies in preventing, investigating, and mitigating crime and terrorism. In this blog, the Law and Internet Foundation stress the importance of conducting societal, ethical, and legal assessments of emerging technologies to ensure that they are ethically acceptable and socially desirable.

Technology is an ever-evolving aspect of the day to day lives of every individual. As everything becomes digitalized, so do criminal activities due to technology providing a new way of executing crimes. Crimes that have been around for an extensive amount of time, such as weapon trafficking, or the threat of organized crime such as terrorist acts, are currently expanding the scope of their ability through technology. The advantages that technology provides should not be underestimated, but at the same time the consequences of using it in bad faith needs to be combated.

The COPKIT project was launched with the aim to address these issues. The driving force and technology that is behind the COPKIT project is the Early Warning/Early Awareness system. This type of system is not new, but rather has been transformed to be applicable in the digital world. Up until now, early awareness has been used to determine storm paths, disaster risks and lives lost. The use of this system has now transferred to the digital world, and the goal is to identify and predict threats and potential new technologies that could be used in the fight against cybercriminals.

Technology gives criminals and terrorists a whole new area in which they can evolve their organizations through the back channels of the internet, also known as the dark web. The dark web allows private computer networks to communicate with one another without revealing data about their identity, such as the IP address of a user. While this supports the principle of free speech, it has been grossly used for illegal activities such as weapon trafficking, drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorist activities to name a few.

The difficulty that arises is exactly the ability to track and pinpoint the individuals that are taking part in such activities. The current methodology for law enforcement agencies is to apply intelligence led policing. Intelligence led policing consists in gathering data and information and risk assessments, and then acting based on these elements. While this is an efficient way to deal with the issues at hand, as it uses intelligence guiding operations, it does not aid in the ability to predict and anticipate future criminal behaviour and their use of technology. Therefore, to be able to be better prepared for technology enabled threats and risks, the methodology needs to change.

“Through integrating ethical, legal and societal concerns ‘by design’ we intend to develop robust COPKIT tools that are legally complaint, ethically acceptable and socially desirable.”  – COPKIT’s core is centred around the social responsibility principle which is outlined in the SATORI CEN Workshop Agreement 17145 (2017). The way this principle is utilized in the agreement is by creating an ethical assessment that will be conducted with all the new up-and-coming innovations. This principle enunciates that the assessment will be done with an analysis of the societal, ethical, and legal consequences, which ensures that the tools and technology of the future are architecturally designed around these principles intending for a higher social responsibility.

To the question of how this assessment can be done as it is quite broad, it is important to turn to the European Union principles that have been enshrined in the Treaties. The principles which govern our lives such as proportionality and necessity are directly embedded into the assessment. For example, it must be considered whether the collection of data is necessary to meet the identified needs or whether the system can be effective in achieving the aim pursued, by considering other measures that can produce the same effect. This is a legal consequence, and it can then determine the effectiveness of the invention and how to adapt it to fit the principle. A potential societal consequence is, for example, if an invention has a negative impact on the environment, animals, and plants. If the answer is yes in accordance with the assessment, it will be necessary to change the design of the invention before it can be used. This ensures there is less harm done to society as it aims to develop innovations which give the ultimate amount of foresight before they start being used.

This project will continuously produce feedback for improving the systems and programs that are going to be adopted and used for the fight against online crime. By having the innovations and technological tools assessed before their use in the fight against cybercrime, COPKIT will provide a more ethical and accurate approach. COPKIT has the social responsibility principle at its core and has therefore been applying the assessments that have been outlined in the SATORI CEN Workshop Agreement 17145 to create ethically digital tools. Through the development of these tools in an ethical manner, the project will provide a system which aims to protect all individuals. Technology is no longer the future, as it is all in the present. The massive steps taken every day need to be regulated in a manner which causes the least amount of harm to society, and at the same time aims to help humanity. COPKIT is a project which aims to facilitate the fight against cybercrime in the most ethical way possible while still staying a step ahead. The COPKIT project will lead to innovative tools that will have ethical responsibilities at its core and embed technology which will assess a risk before it has occurred. ­­­­

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