Avoiding False Positives: Analytics or Humans?

By Robert Barker, Infoglide Senior VP & Chief Marketing Officer

The European Union recently started a five-year research program in conjunction with its expanding role in fighting crime and terrorism. The purpose of Project Indect is to develop advanced analytics that help monitor human activity for “automatic detection of threats and abnormal behaviour and violence.”

Naturally, the project has drawn suspicion and criticism, both from those who oppose the growing power of the EU and from watchdog groups concerned about encroachments into privacy and civil liberty:

According to the Open Europe think tank, the increased emphasis on co-operation and sharing intelligence means that European police forces are likely to gain access to sensitive information held by UK police, including the British DNA database. It also expects the number of UK citizens extradited under the controversial European Arrest Warrant to triple. Stephen Booth, an Open Europe analyst who has helped compile a dossier on the European justice agenda, said these developments and projects such as Indect sounded “Orwellian” and raised serious questions about individual liberty.

Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, a UK human rights group, said, “Profiling whole populations instead of monitoring individual suspects is a sinister step in any society. It’s dangerous enough at [the] national level, but on a Europe-wide scale the idea becomes positively chilling.”

At IdentityResolutionDaily, we’ve consistently supported open and civil discussion about balancing security requirements with individual rights of privacy and liberty (e.g. “Walking the Privacy/Security Tightrope“) . We’ve also dealt with the criticality of using analytic technology that minimizes false positives (e.g. “False Positives versus Citizen Profiles“).

Not long ago, James Taylor of Decision Management Solutions made an excellent point about whether using analytic technologies (e.g. identity resolution) versus relying totally on human judgment increases or decreases the risk of false positives:

Humans, unlike analytics, are prone to prejudices and personal biases. They judge people too much by how they look (stopping the Indian with a beard for instance) and not enough by behavior (stopping the white guy who is nervously fiddling with his shoes say)… If we bring analytics to bear on a problem the question should be does it eliminate more biases and bad decision making than it creates new false positives… Over and over again studies show analytics do better in this regard… I think analytics are ethically neutral and the risk of something going “to the dark side” is the risk that comes from the people involved, with or without analytics.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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