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Data Analytics and Algorithms in Policing in England and Wales: Towards A New Policy Framework

Alexander Babuta and Marion Oswald
Occasional Papers, 23 February 2020
Organised Crime and Policing, Policing and Security, UK, Law and Ethics, Technology
This paper summarises the use of analytics and algorithms for policing within England and Wales and proposes a policy framework to guide the use of new technologies.

Watch the launch of the paper

RUSI WAS COMMISSIONED by the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) to conduct an independent study into the use of data analytics by police forces in England and Wales, with a focus on algorithmic bias. The primary purpose of the project is to inform CDEI’s review of bias in algorithmic decision-making, which is focusing on four sectors, including policing, and working towards a draft framework for the ethical development and deployment of data analytics tools for policing.

This paper focuses on advanced algorithms used by the police to derive insights, inform operational decision-making or make predictions. Biometric technology, including live facial recognition, DNA analysis and fingerprint matching, are outside the direct scope of this study, as are covert surveillance capabilities and digital forensics technology, such as mobile phone data extraction and computer forensics. However, because many of the policy issues discussed in this paper stem from general underlying data protection and human rights frameworks, these issues will also be relevant to other police technologies, and their use must be considered in parallel to the tools examined in this paper.

The project involved engaging closely with senior police officers, government officials, academics, legal experts, regulatory and oversight bodies and civil society organisations. Sixty nine participants took part in the research in the form of semi-structured interviews, focus groups and roundtable discussions. The project has revealed widespread concern across the UK law enforcement community regarding the lack of official national guidance for the use of algorithms in policing, with respondents suggesting that this gap should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Any future policy framework should be principles-based and complement existing police guidance in a ‘tech-agnostic’ way. Rather than establishing prescriptive rules and standards for different data technologies, the framework should establish standardised processes to ensure that data analytics projects follow recommended routes for the empirical evaluation of algorithms within their operational context and evaluate the project against legal requirements and ethical standards. The new guidance should focus on ensuring multi-disciplinary legal, ethical and operational input from the outset of a police technology project; a standard process for model development, testing and evaluation; a clear focus on the human–machine interaction and the ultimate interventions a data driven process may inform; and ongoing tracking and mitigation of discrimination risk.

BANNER IMAGE: Courtesy of iuriimotiv/Adobe Stock.

Alexander Babuta
Research Fellow, National Security

Alexander Babuta is a Research Fellow in National Security Studies at RUSI. His research focusses on policing, intelligence and... read more

Marion Oswald
Associate Fellow

Marion is the Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Fellow in Law at the University of Northumbria, an Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services... read more

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