FC: New "Coplink" AI brought online to help track sniper, from NYT

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Sat Nov 02 2002 - 09:19:10 PST

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    From: "Danny Yavuzkurt" <ayavuzkat_private>
    To: <declanat_private>
    Subject: New AI dubbed 'Coplink' brought online - helps link sniper 
    killings, but worries some
    Date: Sat, 2 Nov 2002 06:27:22 -0500
    Declan - something of interest to all FC and Politech readers...
     >From the NYT today:
    "An Electronic Cop That Plays Hunches"
    (unknown why they put this technology story in the arts section - whoops..)
    Now this is some interesting stuff.  Seems the head of AI at the University
    of Arizona, a Dr. Hsinchun Chen (who formerly worked on 'knowledge
    management issues' for the DoD and CIA) has been working since 1997 on a
    system he calls "Google for law enforcement" to link up disparate police
    crime databases into a coherent whole, overseen by an AI he calls, not too
    imaginatively, 'Coplink'.  Article says it wasn't even fully online when the
    sniper killings were occuring, but it is already being used to link earlier
    killings to the known cases (we *have* seen many more killings previously
    thought to be unrelated coming to light in recent days).
    Article goes on to reassure readers that 'the Coplink files are all public
    records' and that it isn't 'classified or secret' data.  However, Dempsey of
    the CDT worries about extending the AI's reach to disparate police databases
    that cover 'many different types of crimes' - or even to non-police DBs.
    However, the article did specify that Tucson Police Lt. Jenny Schroeder
    'noted John Mohammed's history of domestic violence,' thus it may be
    implying that this is already the case.
    What worries me is not so much the linking of nationwide law enforcement
    databases - this kind of thing has been going on for a long time, and some
    of the latest fruits of law enforcement information-sharing include, say,
    the National Instant Check System for firearms purchases (it will be
    interesting to see whether this system was invoked, say, when Mohammed
    bought the gun he allegedly used in the sniper killings), and the background
    check system that is used in some states for people in 'sensitive positions'
    (including, now, many educators).  What worries me is the possibility that
    the information in the databases will be *proactively* analyzed, say, for
    'criminal tendencies' and for statistical correlations between prior
    infractions and possible future crimes.  The world of Minority Report could
    become a reality, not by the fanciful use of some albinos in a tank of goo,
    but by something as simple - and error-prone - as a data-mining proto-AI
    system, which will be in effect an 'Electronic Cop That Plays Hunches,' as
    the article is titled.  Playing some of those hunches might put innocent
    people under surveillance or suspicion of crimes they have not yet
    committed, or are suspected of having committed (but which 'might not have
    been put in the system yet', a great excuse for illegal search and
    Now all that remains, I suppose, is to give this system (which, they are
    already implying, is a computer and thus can do no wrong) the power to issue
    automatic search and arrest warrants, wiretap authorizations, etc.. and,
    since it will likely issue too many of these for humans to individually
    consider and catalogue, perhaps it will be given the proactive judicial
    authority to carry these out itself.  Though we still need meatspace agents
    to break down doors (at least until people like Rodney A. Brooks, who is
    mysteriously both the head of the AI lab at MIT *and* the proprietor of a
    company dubbed, plagiaristically, iRobot, get their act together.. they've
    already made 'bots to search caves in Afghanistan..), I'm sure it would be
    easy as pie to give Coplink access to the FBI's Carnivore software and CALEA
    surveillance network capabilities, and let it roam freely through
    cyberspace, searching 'suspects' email, surreptitiously gaining access to
    their computers and installing Magic Lantern, what have you...
    If this system is used merely to link existing cops' databases, and give
    real humans a few tips to work with that might solve unsolved cases, it
    raises enough privacy and Fourth Amendment issues right there.  But if it,
    as I suspect, is being geared up for even more powerful datamining and
    'hunch' capabilities, well, we're heading for a Skynet-type situation here,
    aren't we?.. for now, I'm sure people are still suspicious enough of the
    buggy present-day AI in general to keep this on a short leash, but as its
    processing power and storage grow, I'm sure it'll start being pretty darn
    accurate, scarily accurate, possibly (it's already given the cops some leads
    they weren't considering).. and then, well, why not go for 'more of a good
    thing'?.. how about giving AIs the ability to automatically summon people to
    computerized interrogation stations where they could be pumped for knowledge
    of crimes they are suspected of being linked to?.. easy enough to put
    together an A/V recording system, a speech synthesizer to ask the questions
    in whatever language is required, easy enough to network it, perhaps even
    with encrypted wireless, to the rest of the system, to get real-time
    evidence collection, etc.. give it the power to deliver Miranda warnings,
    and people might just feel it was as legal as a cop showing up on your
    doorstep and doing the same.  Only much, much more widespread, with the
    ability to instantly match up and compare different interviews, witnesses,
    etc.  Or, getting deeper and deeper into 'what-if' paranoia, we could see
    mass-produced MEMS (memory encoding response) scanners - the so-called 'mind
    readers' the government spooks are developing - being integrated into such a
    hypothetical AI's abilities.  Add these to the 'interview stations,' and
    you'd get lots and lots of supposedly accurate data as fast as you wanted
    Hell, we could eventually even see a 'flawless' AI replacing the executive
    and judicial systems entirely, on the sci-fi end of things!.. Robocop plus
    the Terminator plus Judge Dredd.. *rolls eyes*..
    So, where do we draw the line?.. when is AI-assisted police work too much of
    a good thing?.. only time will tell.. for now, at least, the price and dicey
    chances of success will keep most PDs from adopting Coplink - it costs
    'anywhere from $40,000 to over $200,000', depending on a variety of factors,
    and probably most officers will be loath to entrust the thinking portion of
    cop work - the part that they get the greatest credit for - being performed
    by.. a *MACHINE*.  But once it gets more effective and widely accepted, the
    sky's the limit.. after all, as Brooks of iRobot says, "There are enormous
    amounts of facts and connections out there, more than can be held in any one
    person's mind," he added. "Just like with gene patterns, it's much too
    complex for someone to remember it all."  So, as we are shoehorned into
    accepting greater and greater data-collection abilities for law enforcement
    and domestic 'homeland security' departments, the amount of information can
    only grow, and eventually it will be literally impossible to do *any* LE
    database work without the help of a so-called AI like this.. even if right
    now it's just a 'Google for law enforcement,' I'm sure its abilities, and
    thus the trust we place in it, and those who administer it, will only
    increase.  And I'm pretty worried about that.
    Article text follows, for those who don't have NYT Online accounts (though
    they're free)
    "An Electronic Cop That Plays Hunches
    TUCSON, Oct. 28 - Officials building a case against the Washington-area
    sniper suspects are using a new investigative tool to help trace their
    movements across the country. It is an Internet-based system called Coplink,
    developed at an artificial intelligence laboratory here, that allows police
    departments to establish links quickly among their own files and to those of
    other departments.
    During the 21 days in which snipers terrorized the area, investigators used
    everything from specialized ballistics testing to geographic and criminal
    profiling to radio and television announcements to track them down. Then, in
    what turned out to be the 11th hour of the pursuit, they finally reached out
    to Coplink. As it turned out, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo were arrested
    before it was fully installed, but now the post-arrest task force is using
    the system to help connect the dots.
    All of the information that was collected - including that from other
    computer database systems like the Federal Bureau of Investigation's
    Rapidstart - is now being downloaded into the Coplink database so that the
    accumulated data can be compared, said Robert Griffin, president of
    Knowledge Computing Corporation of Tucson, which is turning the prototype in
    the laboratory into a commercial product. "The more data you get, the better
    Coplink works," he said.
    Coplink was designed by Hsinchun Chen, the director of the Artificial
    Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Arizona. "It's the Google for
    law enforcement," he said, referring to a speedy popular Internet search
    engine that, given a couple of words, can find an array of related Web
    sites. "Things that a human can do intuitively we are getting the computer
    to do, too."
    During the sniper investigation, which generated hundreds of thousands of
    tips, the number of potential clues to assimilate was daunting. "We were
    mobilizing a massive effort," said Lt. Mitch Cunningham of the Montgomery
    County police. "We had tactile resources, the military, federal, state and
    local law enforcement agencies and information technology using several
    products where each one of these had a role." So when the National Institute
    of Justice, the Justice Department's research and development arm, suggested
    that the sniper task force try Coplink, the officials agreed.
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