Social media is changing the world. As well as transforming the way we communicate and build both professional and personal relationships, it has had a profound effect on criminal behaviour and is used regularly to enable espionage, financial theft and terrorism. Correspondingly, as the internet exerts increasing influence on modern crime, it also presents a significant opportunity for intelligence analysts in law enforcement.
By challenging their traditional approach to gathering intelligence and working together, analysts can use the internet to establish an intelligence function that can counter the developing threat.
We recommend four key steps towards achieving this goal:
Our work developing social intelligence for a wide range of organisations has shown that using social media is about more than just ‘listening to the crowd’; it gives analysts the opportunity to anticipate behaviour. If used correctly, social intelligence can provide real-time tracking and situational awareness as well as advanced warning of changing sentiment. It also provides a channel to engage and influence users and to help identify new lines of enquiry. To make sense of these huge volumes of dynamic data, however, agencies must invest in tools that can undertake automatic analyses while linking up to other information sources to create a fuller picture of the subject. For example, during large-scale public disorder incidents (such as in the summer of 2011 in the UK), fusing data from social media with other intelligence and incident data could provide a real-time understanding of current and potential hotspots.
Criminals using the internet do not always fit into geographic or departmental boundaries and a multi-agency/departmental/team response is therefore required. As a result, intelligence and investigative teams need to share knowledge quickly and with the right people. Virtual joint working is an efficient and cost-effective way to achieve this. Analysts can use the social media applications more commonly used outside the workplace to support community collaboration, interactive briefings and remote communication. Properly implemented, social media can support networking and the identification of who knows what. Some organisations already have a well-developed culture of sharing information through social media platforms.
Instant availability of information is transforming customer relationships and business operations in the private sector. Businesses are increasingly operating in a world where everybody and everything is interlinked. Providing similar instant access and self-service to a wider community of users within law enforcement agencies will allow analysts to concentrate on actual analysis without being distracted by other more basic requests. This also means that non-analyst users of intelligence can carry out their own searches and receive real-time automated notifications on their topics of interest. For example, in our work developing automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems for the UK, we have seen how such systems can provide SMS notifications to officers with an active interest in a subject; this concept could be applied to all sources of intelligence.
Using social media tools and technologies to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of intelligence analysis will drive a cultural change across the intelligence function and wider organisation. These tools will redefine the way analysts work and will transform their relationship with other intelligence professionals. Our learning from the wider security sector gives us some indication of how working practices might change. For example, analysts become specific subject matter experts adding real value rather than supporting others in searching for data. At the same time, a need-to-share rather than a need-to-know culture will develop with intelligence being produced and consumed across the organisation – not just within the intelligence function.
To discuss the future of intelligence analysis with one of PA's security and policing experts, or to find out more about our expertise in this area, please contact us now.