Exclusive: How Interpol is battling terrorism

By Chia Jie Lin

Interview with Anita Hazenberg, Director of the Innovation Centre at the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation.

Across the world, the number of attempted terrorist attacks by ISIS have remained steady, but in the past four years, the number of successful attacks have since fallen, according to data from the Centre for the Analysis of Terrorism. In 2017, the police thwarted 47 terrorist plots, seven more than the previous year, the New York Times reports. Police agencies are fast adapting to the threat of terrorism and other crimes, using data and emerging technologies to deter attacks.

“Law enforcement by nature is reactive and always responding to the problem,” Anita Hazenberg, Director of the Innovation Centre at the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore, tells GovInsider. But “new technology is changing everything.”

In an exclusive interview, she shares how Interpol and police agencies across the world are battling terrorism and bringing policing up to date.

AI and robotics

Countries are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics to fight crime, according to Hazenberg. Her home country, The Netherlands, is using AI to analyse huge amounts of investigation requests to sieve out important information like intelligence on future terrorist attacks. “Sometimes very valuable information can end up in a file, in an office. But what if in this file is crucial information about a potential terrorist group?” AI can make police agencies “more efficient towards each other with law enforcement cooperation.”

Meanwhile, Dubai has set up a smart police station that is run entirely by AI-powered robots. “I visited the smart police station in Dubai,” Hazenberg says. “There are no human beings there.” The smart police station provides the same services as traditional police stations, from opening criminal cases and lost-and-found services to getting permits. “In a couple of years, some police functions will hardly exist. There will be robots,” she predicts.
“In a couple of years, some police functions will hardly exist.”

Using data to identify patterns

Countries are now using big data in environmental and future foresight scans to predict trends and patterns in crimes. A study in Australia found a correlation between domestic violence and global temperatures: as it gets hotter, more people get drunk, which then leads to higher rates of domestic violence. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, high unemployment rates can cause crimes like petty thefts to rise, according to local police.

This kind of data could help solve crimes on an international scale if countries shared them with each other. "Countries are looking at how all these types of things could affect law enforcement, but no one is bringing it together on a global domain,” Hazenberg says.

An area that countries can study together is migration, as thousands of refugees from war-torn countries seek asylum elsewhere. “We had not anticipated that we would have major influx of people at the borders of the European Union. Suddenly, it was affecting also neighbourhoods,” she says. For instance, refugee populations living in makeshift accommodations have high rates of petty thefts, while local right-wing parties tend to assault refugees that set up camp in their communities. These countries can use migration data to understand effects on crime rates, she adds, allowing the police to adapt their strategies and deploy their police forces accordingly.

New evidence from IoT

Digital tools are fast emerging as important sources of evidence. “Many of us are not aware, for example, what kind of digital evidence is in a computer, cell phone, and drones? How do we deal with that?”, says Hazenberg.

Even everyday appliances can shed light on clues that may have been missed as they are connected and store data. A smart lamp, for example, can provide evidence on when it was used and how long for, giving officers a more detailed picture of the crime scene. “We asked the police officers and first, they thought we were crazy when we asked them to take digital evidence from lamps.” she says. IoT has privacy implications, but is positive for policing.

Interpol is partnering with police agencies to write up guidelines for how first responders should handle and analyse the digital appliances that they find at crime scenes. These guidelines will allow police from different countries to share and analyse digital evidence together. “Recently, someone, by just asking us and our colleagues in their network, found a solution for a case which was never thought before,” she says.

The main challenge for law enforcement “is to define its future”, says Hazenberg. While drones can be used in crime scene investigations and rescue efforts, terrorists can use it to spy on civilians and bomb their enemies. Governments need to prepare themselves for these increasingly grey areas, she believes.
From smart police stations to digital forensic labs, the next step for countries is to create new guidelines to redefine and adapt to the changing face of law enforcement. Interpol is here to help.