Durham police under fire for ‘crude’ profiling techniques

By Helena Snider

Durham police has been subject to criticism over their ‘crude’ data employed to process offenders.

Digital rights and privacy group Big Brother Watch (BBW) found the data as part of an investigation into police AI research.

Durham police said the tool was intended as a means to help to “improve their life chances”, and identify those most at risk of reoffending.

The AI tool uses 34 data categories including the offender’s criminal history, combined with their age, gender and two types of residential postcode.

BBW claim that Durham police has been developing a software called the Harm Assessment Risk Tool (Hart). This tool attempts to discover whether suspects are at low, moderate or high-risk of reoffending.

Hart used information from over 104,000 people who have been arrested in Durham over a period of five years.

Big Brother Watch posted a blog post explaining that police data was created via Mosaic, an Experian dataset. Mosaic was created from profiles of around 50 million people living in the UK. Mosaic classifies people into groups such as “disconnected youth”, “Asian heritage” and “dependent greys”. The categories were annotated with lifestyle details such as “heavy TV viewers”, “overcrowded flats” and “families with needs”.

The director of BBW, Silkie Carlo, said it was “chilling” for Experian to gather information on millions of people and sell it on to organisations.

BBW wrote on the blog: “The recent revelations about the improper use of big data have brought into clear focus the extent to which personal data can be aggregated and used to manipulate individuals through severe abuses of privacy.”

Photograph: Durham Constabulary

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