Friday, 13 August 2010

A ‘risk’ of reporting crimes in the UK [Un ‘risc’ al reclamării infracţiunilor în UK]

Personal data from four times more law-abiding citizens (a total of 181,917 people!) are being stored in British police databases than offenders, this article reveals.

Every time someone calls 999, they are politely asked to accept having their personal detalis introduced in the same database as those of 107,566 ‘aggrieved’ or ‘vulnerably aggrieved’ victims of crimes, while the names of only 38,259 suspects are held.

This yet another example of Orwellian Britain is known to happen only in the case of North Yorkshire Police. What about the other 38 territorial police forces in England, the 8 such law enforcement stuctures in Scotland or the 4 ones in Wales? Or the national ones?


Information is stored for at least 15 years and up to 100, in ‘the most serious cases’ – but who could check the criteria used to consider a case more serious than other?

According to someone from Privacy International, “a member of the public has to worry about approaching the police for fear of being put on a secret database with suspects,” yet this shouldn’t be the case, police officers believe.

A record of “callers who are victims of ongoing problems,” including data about their ethnicity (relevant in cases of hate crimes), could actually benefit the citizens, a spokesperson from the National Policing Improvement Agency says.

Oh, really? How many Brits feel safer after finding out that their data is stored by the police, possibly for a century from now on? What I considered a very polite gesture of Sussex Police (inviting crime witnesses to show up) may not be ‘risk-free’.

And if this wasn’t worrisome enough, here’s another ‘risk’ associated with being a citizen in the UK. Another ‘scientific myth’ is falling apart, as even DNA fingerprinting techniques (those supposedly ‘infailible’) “can sometimes give the wrong results.

DNA analysts are subject to pressure, bias and mistakes just like any other human being, and who is comfortable with passing the responsibility of dictating someone’s fate (freedom or imprisonment) from a judge (and/or jury) to a scientist?

[For all the posts on this blog go to/Pentru toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]


Mihai said...

A while ago I had a conversation with my employer about individual privacy in modern world and how this relates to personal safety.
I must say we had different views on that topic. I should specify that my "boss", Joey, is the owner and founder of a successful company that is primarily building software for the US Government and the US Army, Joey himself having served in the army for many years.
So the US Government is very interested in software that can analyze huge amounts of data (public or not) and extract all sorts of information out of it. And they spend lots of money on that sort of projects.

So one of my questions was: what if those tools or information would get into the wrong hand, couldn't that do allot of harm to the people you try to protect ? How can you make sure that things won't go out of control ? Is this policy of spending that much money on data mining applications that can collect and analyze incredibly huge amounts of data, really wise ? And again, what if that would get in to the wrong hands ?

Well, he replied, probably this would be a real concern in your part of the world (!?), but not here in the US. We have here many responsible people taking care of the collected data, I know most of those who are in charge over those departments. And with all the terrorist threats out there it is better for the government to collect and analyze all the existing data and just throw away what it doesn't need (what could not be seen as a threat).

So then I started asking myself: is it really what this is all about ? Are we so worried about the prospects of a Big Brother society because we lived in such a society up until 20 years ago ? (I don't remember much of that anyway, since I was just a toddler in '89) Is it true that this thing could never be a reality in the US or other western countries ?

Joey is certainly a very nice guy, with a very strong integrity and moral grounds and probably many people working for the US government are the same. But will this be enough to stop the "bad guys" from taking over once the system is up and running ?
That remains to be seen.

MunteanUK said...

Dear Mihai,

Thank you for the very interesting comment, which points out to the huge risks of 'gathering data' in today's 'civilised' word!

Unortunately, fewer and fewer people - overwhelmed with daily worries or desperately trying to fulfill their petty hedonistic goals - realize how dangerous these things can be.

I am also sure that there are many decent guys like your Joey working with our data, but what if these supposedly 'wrong hands' belong to the 'System' itself?

What if all these nice people, convinced that thay are doing a very good job, are simply 'tools' in the hads of people really obsessed with controlling human beings?

Obviously, many people would quickly dismiss this as 'consiracy theory bullshit' - but what aren't our concerns legitimate?


I personally am not so much afraid of the 'bad guys' accessing this huge amount of data gathered about all of us. What if the 'good guys' are even more dangerous?

For instance, according to the good guys' view - the prevailing ideology in our 'civilised world' - most things that I am putting on this blog could 'incriminate' me, and serve as 'evidence' for may 'thought crimes'.

I'm saying a lot of politically incorrect stuff here, am I not?


We shouldn't be paranoid and irrationally worried about certain 'bad signs' around us; however, we should take them into account, and be very wary of any ideology that promises us 'safety'.

Hitler promised safety against the 'subhumans' contaminating the Aryan race, Stalin and all communist masters claimed to protect us from the ills of capitalism (they we're partly right :-), and, generally, all those who want to rule us need a 'threat' in order to make us more subdued.

Can any of us be sure that these threats really exist or that thay couldn't be annihilated in other manners than through mass surveillance, and restricting some of the liberties enshrined in the fundamental laws of any democratic society?

Does bin Laden really exist? Is surveillance as effective as it is claimed, since so many terrorist acts are carried out, in spite of countless security measures?

Could not letting passangers on a plane with water, juice, tea etc truly prevent the blowing up of a plane?


"We have here many responsible people taking care of the collected data" - please let me seriously doubt that!!!

The same 'responsible people' couldn't prevent - or were not allowed to prevent! - Oklahoma City bombing, nor Sept 11, 2001, and many other tragic events.

"That's remain to be seen" - I am afraid that when we can actually 'see' with our own eyes a Big Brother ruling over us it's already too late to stop it...

Not that we could stop it now or I'd be advocating any 'anti-System rebellion'. It's not about that; it's just about understanding where this world is heading to.

Blessed are those who, heeding to these 'troubling signs', would be closer and closer to Christ, and put their trust in Him!

Gregor said...

Interesting post Bogdan. Sadly, I had not myself heard about it. Brit newspapers are so obsessed with celebs and gossip. We keep hearing that Nick Clegg and David Cameron are supporting civil liberties but in practice they have done almost nothing.

Also an interesting comment from Mihai, but my way of seeing the question of 'good guys' and 'bad guys' is that if a stranger stood outside your house looking in with a telescope, wouldn't the question of whether or not he was a 'good' buy be utterly irrelevant?

MunteanUK said...

@ Gregor

I'm glad I can still post things that you find 'interesting', and I can also contratulate you on doing the same on your blog!

It's hard to tell what Cameron & Clegg will do about these police databases, but I assume that they were inherited from the reign of 'New Labour'.

Although I should be grateful that it was on their time when I was given the change of coming to the UK as Chevening Fellow, you know I personally consider this 'New Labour' a devastating period in Britain's history.

It would be foolish and un-Christian to 'put one's faith' in political leaders, however, for Britain's sake, I hope that the current Government could 'mend' at least some of the many wrongs left by Bliar & Clown.


You are raising an interesting rethorical question, but you make abstraction of one aspect.

While seeing someone 'peeping' into your house makes it easier to perceive him as a 'bad guy', you may not see those people digging into your personal data.

This one the on hand. On the other hand, there's a ceaseless propaganda about how 'useful' is for a State to keep these databases.

Like with so many other things, Big Brother is trying to convince us that everything he does is for our own good!

Gregor said...


Of course I'm not defending New Labour, but the simple thing is that the 2010 election was about very few things: the upper middle classes v the lower middle classes, urbanites v country people, north v south, government v private sector.

But in terms of the banks, war, Europe and the monitoring of the British people, those who control such things are 'above' democracy.

MunteanUK said...

@ Gregor

No, I wasn't suspecting you of 'defenting' New Labour; you shouldn't have doubts about this! :-)

With regards to the last UK elections, I wish you could have developed what you said here in comments to the post refering to that event:

I know you offered consistent comments, nevertheless, I don't think to what extent non-British like me understand the "upper middle classes v the lower middle classes" or "government v private sector" disputes...


Apart from these, I agree with you that the things you enumerated remain 'above democracy' :-(

New Labour took Britain to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's very likely that the current coalition government will take you to war with Iran.

New Labour bailed out banks and put an overwhelming burden on the Brit taxpayer, and I doubt that Cameron & Clegg could really dismantle the privileges enjoyed by the 'fat cats'.

But what if in relation to Britain's destiny in the EU and the fate of the surveillance society there's still room for interesting and (pleasantly) surprising developments?!?!

Mihai said...


I agree with you, but they can always say: "Hey, the surveillance system is 99% automated, there is no real person staring at you all day long. Only those things that are found incriminating by the AI factor will be further analyzed by humans"

Yes, sure, that can not make us feel more comfortable since, as Bogdan pointed, many thing that are politically incorrect might be seen as incriminating - and especially the MunteanUK blog :) -

MunteanUK said...

@ Mihai

You are truly making a good point reminding us that Big Brother will try to reassure us by claiming that the surveillance system is 'automated', that is..., safe, discrete, build on scientific data, mistake-proof, blah-blah-blah.

The prevailing ideology today is that nothing 'scientific' can go wrong, in spite of witnessing many examples of the opposite.


Please excuse my ignorance (maybe it's not Gregor's or other people's case), but could you describe here a bit what this "AI factor" is?

Last but not least, thank you again for your pertinent comments!

Mihai said...

The "AI factor" is an Artificial Intelligence Engine that analyzes the data and either signals the human factor when it detects a malicious intent or acts according to the mechanisms that have been programmed into it.

It would be allot to say about that, since AI is such a vast domain. So I will try to focus primarily on the things I know more about, and one of those things would be Natural Language Processing, or NLP.

That is one of the hot areas of scientific research at the moment. There has been allot of research done in the past few years and the results are sometimes amazing.

It is possible to detect, given a set of texts, if the author is lying, has a possible malicious behavior or is trying to hide messages in his texts.
That being determined, the AI engine can either inform the human factor or act on its own: try to determine the identity of the author (it could do that to, by comparing the texts with other texts for which the author is known), build a report about him, search for previous actions and signs of misbehavior (which have, certainly, been stored in a database) and so on. And maybe send a full report to someone that will take care of the case.

Even more, using NLP techniques it is possible to detect things related to the thinking patterns of a certain person, things that could not be detected by human operators.

Sure, all of these techniques are statistical and will not provide a 100% accuracy (as it is the case with most of the NLP area) but they're getting better every year.

Things can get kind of scary from this point and one can start asking if the Mind Police will not become a reality in tomorrow's world. And it might be a mind-police much more efficient than the orwellian one.

MunteanUK said...

@ Mihai

Wow, thank you very much! I truly hope that your definitions of AI and NLP - new concepts for me, I must fully acknowledge my ignorance - will be helpful for everyone who may ever click on this page!

Some could still dimiss everything I write on my blog (particularly in the current series) as merely the obsessions of a 'conspiracy theory addict', but now you described that some 'nightmarish scenarios' are technologically possible.

Actually, your technical description of what this NLP can do is more worrisome than my blah-blahs, which remain only opinions, speculations, empirical predictions, essays etc about some dangers awaiting mankind.

Just like in Noah's time, most people around us consider us 'madmen' :-( And just like after he finished building his Ark, for many people it would be too late when they realize how grim reality can become.

The greatest advantage of the devil is that - to most sane human beings, be them believers or atheists - the utmost evil remains utterly 'unthinkable'.

Mihai said...


those were more like brief descriptions rather than definitions. I didn't know much about NLP myself before working on a project related to this area.

NLP applications are already in use in the US. I have read about at least two cases where they helped to catching murderers. Since then, the Police started using that sort of applications more often, to analyze the declarations of people involved in certain crimes. And it seems to be working...

The next step is to implement the same techniques on a large distributed system and use it to analyze large amounts of data on the Internet.

That might not seem too frightening yet, since there is no strong legislation (or at least I'm not aware of it) that can incriminate people based on data collected from the web. But will it take long until such laws are adopted ?

Anyway, wouldn't it be possible that such systems will only be used to ensure general safety ?

Whatever one's answer to that question would be, one thing is clear: we are not far from making the Mind Police a technologically feasible prospect.

Anonymous said...

I also know about NLP, but in the translation "neuro-linguistic programming".
Courses are in Europe (I think that the "master" is in Germany), but also in Romania and even in our city (increasingly more people participate).
I also received an invitation to this type of course (for novice, advanced, trainer, etc.) and it said that help you reach equilibrium, etc.
then you are...programmed (even if you don't realize that)...
But I saw and I know that if this information reach people ... less balanced... can be a weapon ... at mental level.
I didn't like at all what happens there, but many are deceived. With everything that is derived from here.
Daca scriam in romaneste probabil eram mai coerenta...sorry. Se intelegea mai bine...

Mihai said...


I didn't know about "neuro-linguistic programming" especially that it is not related to computer programming and AI.

From your description it seems to be more like a technique for "programming" (deceiving) your mind in doing certain things or acting in a certain way.
Personally, I'm totally against that, or any other techniques that create the illusion of equilibrium, inner peace, happiness etc.
Escaping in a fantasy world does not annihilate reality. Reality will still be there (and not just physical reality but also the spiritual one) despite all our efforts to ignore it or to put our consciousness to sleep.

Anonymous said...

Mihai, you're right and I'm totally against too,'s happens...

MunteanUK said...

@ everyone

It seems that what North Yorkshire Police was doing (keeping records of people reporting crimes) was by no means an exceptional situation in Britain.

"West Midlands Police, the UK's second largest force, holds 1.1 million records of people who have reported offences over the past 12 years."