New Collaboration between ADS & the Police: Het Politielab

Amsterdam Data Science Researchers will help the Police to get more information from seized mobiles and computers.

The Police Lab, Het Politielab, is a collaboration between the Police and Amsterdam Data Science, a network organisation comprising the Amsterdam knowledge institutes: AUAS, CWI, UvA, VU.

New computer technologies will be used to scan millions of photos, messages, location data and videos quickly, looking for relationships which are not quickly evident with the naked eye.

The enormous amount of data in criminal investigations that the police are being faced with brings new challenges, says Theo van der Plas, Program Director of Digitization and Cybercrime of the Police:

“I expect the new techniques to see relationships that we’ve never discovered before.”

Currently, the police use computer tools that automatically search for data. Police must take the next step. For example, the detective needs to get a summary of what might be of interest to all seized devices with the touch of a button. The computer sees relationships and (deviant) patterns in the data.

To give an example: The computer recognizes that two photos were taken on different devices in the same place. This can be done using, for example, location data and objects that can be seen on the images. For the police, it may be an indication that two suspects have been in the same place.

Cooperation with science is an important step for the police in the “arms race” with criminals, says Van der Plas.

“Criminals have many available options that can plague us. They encrypt their messages and use a variety of communication tools. With the new techniques we can hopefully get more knowledge from the mountain of information we have taken. “

This does not solve all problems for the police, he acknowledges. Data that is encrypted cannot be crawled with the new tools. Therefore, the new Computer Crime Act, which is currently being discussed in the First Chamber, is important, he says. This gives the police the power to hack computer systems of suspects, which includes ensuring that information is collected before it is encrypted.

In addition, the Supreme Council recently commented on searching all information on a smartphone. This can give a nearly complete picture of someone’s personal life and, according to the judgment, cannot be without the permission of a prosecutor or judge, which has not always happened.

The new tools developed in the Police Lab will also meet the safeguards, says Van der Plas. For example, the police do not apply unrelated analyses to seized devices, if the information is not relevant to the investigation.

Next month, three investigators will be recruited for the Police Lab, financed by the police.

According to Marcel Worring, Director of the Informatics Institute UvA and one of the initiators of Amsterdam Data Science, one of the key challenges is for language and image to be seen in coherence. For example, a picture of a weapon can have another meaning if it is accompanied by a threatening text.

Further reading & watching:

As featured in Trouw (in Dutch)

The computer learns to think as a detective (in Dutch)

As featured on NOS Journaal, watch the video from 9 minutes (in Dutch)

As featured in FNWI, UvA Newsletter (in English)

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