Finding The Middle Ground

Finding the middle ground: keeping the public safe, while respecting their privacy

When it comes to keeping the public safe, the Government and indeed the public need to find the middle ground to achieve the best results. The timeless debate over ‘privacy versus security’ has reared its head in recent weeks, with the Government planning on reintroducing the Data Communications Bill, in the wake of the horrific murder of Lee Rigby. This will require negotiation.

On the one hand, keeping the public safe is the most important role the police and the security services play but, on the other, the privacy of members of the public is one of the most paramount features of democratic life. The public must also realise that for law enforcement to do its job, there must be a degree of willingness from the public when it comes to the extraction and analysis of mobile data.

It’s no surprise that the Government is looking to reintroduce this piece of legislation. The dreadful events that unfolded in Woolwich show that terrorists have no respect for human life and play by no rules. Investigators need the most cutting-edge technology, to prevent such acts of criminality from reoccurring. But these tools may come at a risk.

Police and security services rely on the most up-to-date technology to prevent crime from happening, as well as helping to unravel a criminal case. The Data Communications Bill will enable this power, with investigators having the ability to analyse digital communications between criminals and criminal groups, but knowing how to handle this data is critical.

A balance must be struck; a middle ground must be found. The police and the security services must keep the public safe, but they must also respect their privacy. They essentially have a dual-role, in that they are the guardians of the public’s safety as well as their privacy.

There are specific tools available to investigators that solve this problem. Tools such as the UFED Link Analysis, from Cellebrite, ensure that criminals don’t get away with communicating via mobile devices. Finding multiple connections between criminals and criminal gangs, allows investigators to build a far broader picture of a case than is possible using the more conventional methods.

The underlying weakness of digitally-reliant criminals is that they use their mobiles so frequently. Investigators can expect to find a wealth of data on mobile devices. The true advantage of tools such as the UFED Link Analysis is the fact that they allow investigators to establish connections. In cases such as the murder of Lee Rigby, searching for connections and patterns may well be crucial in discovering whether the attack was part of a wider plot and whether there are groups that are behind the attack.

But it’s important that those that operate the forensic equipment, know exactly how it works and what the purpose of it is. Just as it would be futile for someone that isn’t trained in biological forensics to extract and analyse DNA to solve a case, the same is true of mobile forensics. Due to the sensitive nature of data extraction, investigators must be fully trained to operate this equipment and use it to its optimum potential.

There will always be a ‘trade-off’ when it comes to privacy and security. Although the forensic equipment that’s available to investigators is highly advanced, it does require the application of human rationale, when operating the equipment.

Safeguarding the privacy and the security of the public is a dual-role that really goes hand-in-hand. Although negotiation will be an integral part of the legislation, when it’s debated in Parliament, it’s important to realise that, with the correct technology and know-how, investigators can hope to fulfil their dual-role to the highest level.
Yuval Ben Moshe
Yuval Ben-Moshe, senior forensics technical director at Cellebrite