New Zealand a pioneer in Big Data surveillance technology
A Royal Commission of Inquiry will be convened in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosques atrocity.
In the short term also there will be departmental inquiries to evaluate who knew what and when?
Among the issues, the questions, in the longer term inquiry, the Royal Commission and also in the more immediate departmental inquiries are:-
- Was the suspect identified as a consistent user of extremist social media sites, and if so, when?
- Was the suspect’s application for gun license approval and his subsequent acquisition of the approved weaponry at any time matched with any extremist site visits?
- Was the suspect’s visit to North Korea, a nation with which New Zealand is still technically at war, and attested by the photo posting, registered by surveillance agencies in connection with the granting of the gun license approval?
- Was the suspect’s peripatetic lifestyle and absence of visible means of support and over a long period of time in terms of not having a job, permanent or otherwise, registered prior to the granting of the gun approval?
- Were the suspect’s finances investigated at any time and in relation to the weaponry acquisitions in terms of money transfers and deposits and especially the source of these?
In the background of all this is the question of the security agencies and the degree to which they were, and are, confined and hobbled in their operations by legislated privacy restrictions – and in the more abstract sense, human rights ideals.
Information technology and its application naturally follows on the heels of this.
Big data refers to the method in which information from every conceivable electronic source including social media is run through an analytic sieve in order to pin point departures, exceptions, from a pre-defined norm.
Under this approach the suspect’s gun licence application procedure might have exposed:-
- Visitations to certain social media sites
- Absence of visible means of support i.e. a job
- That he was in fact a loner i.e. absence of postings showing the suspect with other people in the conventional context of a male in their late 20s.
Using this example and if the above had rung bells this same approach might have run the suspect’s financial transactions though this same sieve in order to discover where his money was coming from?
Similarly, the issue will be raised at some stage during all these deliberations to the effect: was it known if the suspect sought treatment at any stage from medical clinicians, and if so why?
These last two points will be intensively relevant to the various ensuing inquiries.
New Zealand was a pioneer in what is now described as big data and data mining.
The National Law Enforcement Database in Wanganui was opened in 1976.
It featured a modus operandi routine which allowed investigators to sort through suspects and persons of interest based on the suspects’ known preferred criminal techniques and instruments.
Coincidentally, the world’s major security/surveillance technology supplier now is Palantir which is controlled by New Zealand part-time resident Peter Thiel.
New Zealand’s own entry into this growth market was the launch on the NZX of Wynyard Group which owed its roots to the same programme-generation technology that had proved so successful in the Anglo-New Zealand crime fighting networking installed at Wanganui.
Wynyard in a reprise of New Zealand being either too early or too late in electronics, dismayingly rapidly faded from the NZX, and the security enforcement market.
Royal Commissions and the promise of them have the immediate effect of drawing the sting, acting as a symbolic salve, in instances when the public is considered to have cause to believe that it has been ill-served by the institutions that are supposed to be acting on their behalf, in this instance, watching over them.
Even so the immediate run of departmental investigations will render practical information in the shorter and therefore much more useful term.