Applying technology to reinforce security and promote development

14 Jun 2018

Event report

This meeting was organised by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and focused on technology, security and development. Furthermore, the event also brought attention to the SIRIO Project (Security Improvements through Research, Technology and Innovation), meant to identify emerging risks and their possible technological solutions. The global impact of technological changes, such as, but not limited to, artificial intelligence (AI), data science, blockchain, and robotics, has both opportunities and challenges. Technology can contribute to the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while representing the means for organised cybercrime.

The first panel discussion focused on big data visualisation technology as a means to fight organised crime investments in the legal economy. Mr Jean-Maire Le Goff (CERN) talked about the experience of the Italian government in fighting organised crime through the use of big data. It was a combination of the unique expertise of CERN in the visualisation and interpretation of big data, and the big data that Italy produces with regards to organised crime. He explained that visual analytics has to be combined with a deeper analysis of the data. Visual analytics combines automatic analysis techniques with interactive visualisations. Humans do not have the capacity to process data the way a computer does, but they can decide how to visualise the data, once processed.

Mr Francesco Marelli (UNICRI) complemented Le Goff’s contribution by explaining how the pilot case study was conducted, through a combination of three tools. The first one was the dataset made available by the Italian government, about all the assets confiscated in relation to organised crime over a period of 70 years. The second was a digital platform to navigate through the data and results, made available by CERN. The final tool was a combination of ’domain experts’ and ’data scientists’. The first result of the pilot study was the possibility to map where the organised crime groups invested in the Italian economy and the relative magnitude of the confiscation, and made an analysis based on different regions (Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Lombardia). Moreover, it was possible to focus on the specifics of such business investments and the relative type of sectors organized crime groups were investing in. This pilot study was then proposed as an expanded prototype. Indeed, the dataset was incremented with additional information, such as court judgements and data from local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In this way, it was possible to identify the organisational features, financial capacity, and the relative connections (and straw man) of the organised crime groups: the researchers were indeed able to understand for each organised crime or ‘mafia’ group, their organisation, decision-making patterns and vulnerabilities. Finally, in terms of prediction, it is clear that crime cannot be anticipated; however, with regards to crimes that happen with regularity, some patterns can be identified.

The second topic of the panel discussion was virtual reality for law enforcement training, addressed by Mr Sergio Olivero (SiTI, Italy). He argued that there are two main categories of disasters: those that are natural, and those that are man-made, in which many actors are involved, from governmental authorities, to citizens, communities, and volunteering society. He explained that training is essential for effective emergency management; however, traditional training has a series of problems in terms of costs, time, and involvement of professionals. Moreover, traditional training is hard to assimilate if it is done in a classroom. In this regard, simulations are effective alternatives and inevitable training tools. A simulation is an artificial environment created with software to make people feel as if they are in the real world. In applied science, simulation means a model of reality that enables the evaluation and forecast of the dynamic evolution of a series of events and processes defined by the user. It has several features: it is immersive, interactive and versatile. From simple video games to serious games, the phenomenological approach is indeed able to create simulation as close as possible to real life. In serious games, the operator understands what happens in the situation; however, it is with a phenomenological approach that it is possible to reproduce the physical events and processes in order to reduce the cost if the training. A crucial point is that advanced technologies make the use of such technologies inevitable. Moreover, training using virtual reality has several benefits in terms of time, costs, efficiency, security and safety, geographical barriers; and, in terms of monitoring, it is possible to always have the trainees under watch. Finally, it must be noted that we must differentiate between virtual reality and augmented reality. The former is an artificial, computer created simulation, while the latter identifies an interactive experience of a real-world environment. 

The third topic, tools for rapid response to emerging crimes, was addressed by Mr Mikael Blomquist Jensen (UNICRI). He explained that the overarching goals are aligned with Goal 16 of the UN 2030 Agenda, to promote peace, justice and strong institutions. He explained UNICRI’s specific goals to promote national, regional and international co-operation for shared concerns and emerging crimes. He explained that the international rapid response pattern that they use is structured around four pillars:

  • Action oriented research
  • Tailored capacity building
  • Good practice
  • Rapid response 

Law enforcement is challenged by the dynamic evolution of the patterns used by the organised crime groups: they are leaving the deep web and using more common tools such as WhatsApp or Telegram. He then talked about the specialised and tailored training that they are working on to swiftly develop and provide training on legislation, good practice and governance, detection investigation, prosecution and sentencing, technical issues and information management. It is meant to create a cross-cutting rapid response and training unit within UNICRI. Moreover, the focus of operational activities is on the following aspects:

  • Illicit trafficking in precious metals and gemstone
  • Anti-corruption
  • Support for applying technology to reinforce security
  • Rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders
  • Cyber-crime.

The final presentation was delivered by Mr Marco Musumeci (UNICRI) who went into detail about the SIRIO Project. It is meant to understand the technologies that could represent a risk for national security, and those that could be used as tools for achieving national security. It must be noted that there is an increasingly high involvement in the project of the private sector, especially from the technology industry. The project has six different networks: biotechnology, supply chain security, big data, cybersecurity, CBRN management, and artificial intelligence. The pattern used is a three-step process: identification of emerging security risks and threats analysed by UNICRI and discussed with experts; the identification of policy/technology solutions within the technological community; and advocacy, meant as the communication of the results. 

Mr David Luna (Luna Global Networks) continued by talking about the application of technology to fight illicit trafficking and complementing existing initiatives. He argued that the multistakeholder approach is essential for facing the current challenges. He focused on the global illicit economy, explaining that the global economic value of counterfeiting and piracy could reach USD$ 2-3 trillion by 2022. Moreover, the financial cost of cybercrime will double in the following years. He finished by noting that to better develop public capacity abilities, it is necessary to understand the landscape of illicit trade and markets. Technology can support governments and the private sector in improving responses to existing threats that harm global security, markets and consumers.