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Using Community Policing to Prevent Violent Extremism
The task, preventing violent extremism, reminds one of “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” While Lamont Cranston might have known, for the rest of us the task remains foreboding.
Any of us should be grateful when simple, understandable and credible hope is put forth. Schanzer et al. have done us that favor. Still, the limits — mostly as laid out by the authors — should be understood.
These are “promising.” We’ve seen promises evaporate in other contexts. These are not easy to pull off. And the barriers to success are non-trivial.
The spreading of misinformation online
Michela Del Vicario and colleagues wrote an interesting research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/01/02/1517441113.full.pdf). They studied how scientific information and “unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories” are spread via Facebook.
It turns out that both types of information tend to spread via homogeneous “echo chambers.” Scientific information tends to get out faster. The rumors and conspiracy theories have a much longer distribution cycle. And neither group of people talks much to the other.
Most likely, this will surprise few of us. These sorts of processes have been going on since there has been something recognizable as science. The challenge for policing remains how to cope with the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories as their consumers tend to be isolated from sources of scientific evidence.
The challenge goes even beyond that. Police, too, are people, subject to many of the same social processes that affect private citizens. Police, too, may be isolated from scientific evidence. That makes police leadership somewhat of a challenge.
So, as chiefs and sheriffs lead their organizations toward various futures, how can they best enhance the distribution of objective evidence, cope with rumors and conspiracy theories, and encourage the sharing of information across narratives? Surely, transparency can help — rumors and conspiracy theories emerge more often when the supply of objective information is limited. But what else can or should be done?
What of your digital communication should law enforcement be able to find?
Privacy is a rapidly changing concept. In many respects, it has faded markedly over recent decades. Transparency seems an almost overwhelming zeitgeist. Secrets have become very hard to keep, despite vigorous attempts. See, e.g., http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20151208-untraceable-communication-guaranteed . This new work, in itself, is not a paradigm shift as much as it is a modernizing of a model long in use — e.g., two users sharing a username and password who leave messages in “draft” form on an email server which, itself, was a technologized update of the “dead drop” methodology spies have used as long as there have been spies.
Hope springs eternal, e.g., https://gcn.com/articles/2015/12/08/private-data-as-a-service.aspx . However, for the nonce, privacy and transparency remain locked in a continuing battle, much like bazookas (and their successors) versus armor. When the power of attackers increases the defenders develop stronger protections. Thus it has been, both in physical and digital worlds, for a long time.
What changes that dynamic usually is a paradigm shift, often from outside the attacker/defender box. The paradigm shift may reflect changes in technology and/or changes in mindset but, either way, the old attacker/defender paradigm becomes either less useful or irrelevant.
What possible paradigm shifts do we see? For example,
1. could the general public become more comfortable with increasing transparency, including to police and other intelligence agencies?
2. could invasive technologies stably overcome any probable defenses?
3. could an electromagnetic pulse (or a conceptual equivalent) stably make this game irrelevant?