'The security services may soon be able to scan sensitive data from a significant proportion of the British population for signs of terrorism, an official report reveals.
David Anderson QC examined reforms put in place by MI5 and counter-terrorism policing after the 2017 attacks in Britain. His report for the government on progress so far reveals that counter-terrorism investigators may soon have powerful artificial intelligence and behavioural analysis tools, similar to those used by Facebook, to assess masses of data.
Anderson warns that greater use of artificial intelligence and behavioural analytics needs to be ethical. Areas where it could be used include buying a flight, financial data and the hiring of vehicles. In three of the 2017 attacks, at Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, terrorists hired vehicles to use as weapons.
In his report on Tuesday, Anderson says: “More controversial, however, should increasing automation render it cost-effective, would be the use of such general indicators across the population as a whole, or significant portions of it, with a view to identifying possible future threats.”
The barrister warns of a possible row and damage to trust in state agencies, as when the Guardian revealed the evidence from whistleblower Edward Snowden about wide-ranging surveillance powers.
Anderson wrote: “As UKIC [the United Kingdom intelligence community] came to acknowledge in the wake of the Snowden affair, strongly held public concerns have the potential to damage the perceived legitimacy of vital bulk capabilities. Apart from a strong internal compliance and ethics culture, the best response to public concern is maximum possible transparency, consultation and strong ethical oversight.”
The report says the security services want to learn advanced techniques used to comb through masses of data for information about people, already used by companies such as Facebook.
“It is obvious however that developments in data-sharing and in discovery techniques (notably the increasingly sophisticated use of artificial intelligence and behavioural analytics to extract information from bulk datasets, alone and in combination) will require continuing legal and ethical review.'
Read more: UK security services could get Facebook-style data analysis tools (Mass Surveillance of the Public)