Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Problems with Profiling

The Observer hits a few top stories that tie in well together today - both relate to profiling, and the weaknesses inherent in placing so much trust in such a system.

The first, that a leaked inquiry reveals there was no direct Al-Quaeda link to the 7/7 bombs, highlights the main problem with profiling - that data within the system is only useful/valid so long as the factors "outside" of the system are "stable" too.

A little confusing? OK, in other words, if you have a system set up to find potential terrorists based on who's talking to whom, it only works so long as potential terrorists ONLY talk to existing known ones, to put it simply.

The problem we have now, though, is that the consequences of political action after political action have led to a number of people turning to terrorism independently (see Guardian story, and much older article). Profiling is no good at picking up "isolated" cells like this. The problem is further compounded when one remembers (or, in the case of many politicians, "realises") that you don't actually need to be a potential Peer to make a bomb. (Hell, you don't even need more than about 50p to just pretend to have a bomb, which would shut a station down for an hour or two.)

For too long, "terrorist training camps" and "terrorist networks" have been blamed for the spread of terrorism. But "terrorism" in its current form is nothing more than simple violence, which is as old as the hills. The true causes of violence have been around forever for anyone to "inquire" into, yet they continue to be ignored.

The second article, is both a reminder that a) profiling is highly dependent on the weakest link, and b) we look first to more profiling as the solution to the problems caused by a society of surveillance.

"Drivers use address scam to cheat speed cameras" picks up on a "loophole" (bug? feature?) involving the use of legitimate "business" addresses to avoid automatically-generated fines. By registering a car and its insurance at a "dummy" address, the Police have nowhere to look for the real owner.

Definitely a feature, but one that will probably be phased out as we continue the slide to be normalised, processable by the machine that looks over us. Proof comes at the end of the article:

"...the planned introduction of automatic number plate recognition cameras ... would be harder to deceive.

"A Home Office spokesman said the national identity register being introduced to back up planned ID cards would help...

Primed and ready for a surveillance state.

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