Now that the UK's Investigatory Powers Act has come into force, enabling government authorities to undertake widespread surveillance based on people’s personal data, the police have begun experimenting with predictive policing tools. The constabulary in Durham, a city of close to half a million residents in the North-East of England, has been training and testing a system known as the Harm Assessment Risk Tool (HART). Based on artificial intelligence, the tool combines a range of data, including the detainee’s criminal record, the gravity of the charges laid, plus also criteria such as age and gender, in order to assesses the propensity of a suspect placed in detention to commit further criminal acts if released. This assessment will then determine whether the police agree to bail or seek to keep the accused in custody.
Since this individual profiling procedure appears to contravene the basic principle of presumption of innocence by linking a suspicion that a certain person has been involved in a crime with presumed potential criminal behaviour, it is already being hotly contested. While HART is for the moment being used solely in an advisory capacity as an aid to decision-making, it’s not hard to imagine that in practice things might go differently. (Non-artificial) police intelligence should basically be about protecting people’s rights and individual liberty, and a presumption of innocence is one of those rights to which we are all entitled. After all, the forces of law and order are first and foremost guardians of the peace.