Fighting Terrorism with Technology
It is no secret that society is benefitting from the significant modern-day technological advances being made across a range of fields including information communications technology (ICT); artificial intelligence (AI) particularly in terms of machine learning and robotics; space technology and quantum computing to name a few. However, with the rapid speed of such advancements naturally comes more innovative and harmful ways to impair the national security of many nations such as the UK. These breakthroughs are expected to create new risks to public safety and national security whilst bringing about major transformative shifts in how societies function.
Increased potential for misuse
Due to the dual-use element of these technologies and relatively easy access to them, most are emerging as inherently vulnerable to exploitation by cyber criminals, terrorist actors and those looking to manipulate data online. As laid out in the National Policing Digital Strategy 2020-2030, policing does not operate in a vacuum and cannot stand still in the increasingly digital world that we work and live in and these challenges and opportunities that digital disruption present to policing are rapidly becoming defining issues of their service.
In parallel, the growing geopolitical tensions which we are seeing between Russia and Ukraine means that countries are increasingly viewing these technologies as central to national security through increased threat of cyber-attacks.
Policing and countering terrorism through emerging technologies
As laid out in a speech by Secret Intelligence Service Chief Richard Moore in December 2021, a key national security challenge for the UK is international terrorism and ‘stopping the re-emergence of large-scale international terrorist operations’ in order to protect the UK homeland and its citizens within a digital environment.
There have been some notable advancements which can align with policing the threat of terrorism through close work between the Counter-terrorism and Security (CTS) division of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and police forces including; development of latent fingerprint technology to uncover previously unrecognisable fingerprints and the invention of a new microphone array system to improve surveillance in supporting law enforcement investigations and operations.
However, there is always room for more data-driven and problem-orientated approaches that speed-up decision-making of police forces, to limit insecurity. Terrorism and more loosely, radicalisation online tend to be crimes which are non-random and even predictable, evidenced by the total of 31 late-stage terror plots which have been foiled in the UK since 2017. With obvious exemptions, terrorist crimes tend to cluster in time and space, so heightened computing power and advances in machine learning and Natural Language Processing systems have made it possible to sift through huge quantities of data related to terrorism. The harnessing and processing of these data flows using emerging technologies is crucial to enabling agile security and terrorist prevention capabilities.
It is vital that UK National Security bodies, Intelligence Services and Counter Terror Policing units continue to yearn focused coordination, early engagement and are partnering with industry and academia expertise and knowledge to address the key national security challenges facing the UK.
There are many suggestions as to how this can be achieved with a small component focusing on improved front-line officer training for more effective response to critical incidents such as a terrorist attack. Furthermore, it would be promising to see more forces adopting comprehensive use of surveillance camera capabilities within drones to secure public spaces and protective security – evidenced by Dorset and Devon and Cornwall police forces achievement of certification against the surveillance camera code of practice in relation to their drone use. Lastly, there are core areas which, paired with technological advancements would require rigorous investigation, including: vehicle data, data storage, apps and encrypted communications and digital witnesses (Amazon Alexa or Google Home for example) to name a few.
Whilst of course, ethical considerations and best practice needs to be front-of-mind, it remains clear that as more people gain access to sophisticated technologies – some of which may end up in the wrong hands – counterterrorism efforts will also have to adapt.
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Raya Tsolova is the Programme Manager for National Security at techUK.
Raya is responsible for all National Security related activities across techUK, specifically in the established programmes of Defence, Cyber Security and Justice & Emergency Services. Raya will leverage relationships with existing stakeholders across the three programmes, and will build new relationships between techUK and key stakeholders who are of interest to member companies.
Prior to joining techUK, Raya worked in Business Development for an expert network firm within the institutional investment space. Before this Raya spent a year in industry working for a tech start-up in London as part of their Growth team which included the formation and development of a 'Let's Talk Tech' podcast and involvement in London Tech Week.
Raya has a degree in Politics and International Relations (Bsc Hons) from the University of Bath where she focused primarily on national security and counter-terrorism policies, centreing research on female-led terrorism and specific approaches to justice there.
Outside of work, Raya's interests include baking, spin classes and true-crime Netflix shows!
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Georgie joined techUK as the Justice and Emergency Services (JES) Programme Manager in March 2020, then becoming Head of Programme in January 2022.
Georgie leads techUK's engagement and activity across our blue light and criminal justice services, engaging with industry and stakeholders to unlock innovation, problem solve, future gaze and highlight the vital role technology plays in the delivery of critical public safety and justice services. The JES programme represents suppliers by creating a voice for those who are selling or looking to break into and navigate the blue light and criminal justice markets.
Prior to joining techUK, Georgie spent 4 and a half years managing a Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCRP) in Westminster. She worked closely with the Metropolitan Police and London borough councils to prevent and reduce the impact of crime on the business community. Her work ranged from the impact of low-level street crime and anti-social behaviour on the borough, to critical incidents and violent crime.