You know who Experian is, don’t you? Experian plc is a consumer credit reporting agency which collects and aggregates information on over one billion people and businesses. Based in Dublin, Experian operates in 37 countries. Experian is a partner in the UK government’s Verify ID system. They’re the people who know everything you do, where you bank, how much you spend, where you spend it what bills you get and how quickly you pay them, what phone contracts you have, where you get your broadband and absolutely all your personal data.
You might think that Google and Facebook know everything about you but compared to Experian and the other big players in the industry, they know next to nothing.
Well now it seems that the advent of a big brother system hat combines commercially-held data with that held by government agencies isn’t so far away, and the UK police are testing ways to bring together all that information on the grounds that it will enable them to predict crime.
Durham Police have been using software that is claimed to help them ‘process’ offenders and predict crime. They have been using a tool which, to generate its assessments on offending and reoffending, draws on data gathered by Experian. Durham Police said the tool helped identify those most at risk of reoffending, who could then be offered more help to “improve their life chances”.
Big Brother Watch
Durham’s use of the data was uncovered during an investigation by digital rights and privacy group Big Brother Watch (BBW) into police AI research. BBW said Durham Police had been working on software called the Harm Assessment Risk Tool (HART) that tried to work out whether suspects were at low, moderate or high-risk of reoffending. HART had been ‘trained’ using personal histories of 104,000 people arrested and processed in Durham over a five-year period.
This was expanded with additional information about offenders based on what they did up to two years after being processed.
In a release on their blog, BBW said this police data was augmented using an Experian dataset, called Mosaic, that was produced by Experian after profiling all 50 million adults in the UK.
Amongst the categories Mosaic classifies people into are groups such as “disconnected youth”, “Asian heritage” and “dependent greys”. These categories were filled out with lifestyle assessment such as “heavy TV viewers”, “overcrowded flats” and “families with needs”.
In a statement, Big Brother Watch said it was “chilling” that Experian was able to gather information on millions of people and sell it on to organisations and that: “..for police to feed these crude and offensive profiles through artificial intelligence to make decisions on freedom and justice in the UK is truly dystopian”.
In response, Sheena Urwin, head of criminal justice at Durham Constabulary, said it worked with Experian to improve its understanding of local communities.
“Our aim is to reduce harm to the communities we serve and improve life chances for the people we come into contact with,” she said, explaining that the research project involving HART tried to find out if it was possible to predict someone’s chance of reoffending, said Ms Urwin. Some of those at a high risk would get support to limit that risk, she added.
In what she probably thought was a reassuring statement, Ms Urwin added that HART was only one element that Durham considered when assessing offenders and the final decision remained with the force’s custody sergeants rather than the software.
Experian seemed to think that any unease the scheme maay have attracted related to the labels it applied to people, saying: In creating the descriptions and labels we are always sensitive to the way we describe and name clusters, thinking about how these labels might appear to a consumer,” it said. “We adopt strong ethical standards in the wording we use and when a new Mosaic is built, these names and descriptions go through several approval stages.”
Do you remember the Tom Cruise film ‘Minority Report’? That was the film in which 4 mutated humans called ‘precogs’ were able to see into the future and predict crimes, enabling the police to arrest and imprison potential murderers before they had a chance to kill anybody. Precogs are obviously imaginary characters, so that can never happen, but it seems the UK Police force is looking into replacing precogs with Experian data.
If you live in a poor area where crime levels are high and happen to lose your job, pray that the next knock on the door isn’t from a pair of police constables intent on offering you ‘support’ to stop you resorting to shoplifting.