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Canada goes full “Minority Report”, wants to stop crime before it happens

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The Canadian police are at work building an algorithm capable of analyzing social media posts and cross them with criminal records with the aim of improving their preventive capabilities.

According to what was reported from the DRDC (Defence Research and Development Canada – an agency of the Department of National Defence committed to “knowledge” and “technology”), Canadian province Saskatchewan is developing an algorithm to identify possible risk factors related to people’s disappearances.

In a report published last month, the DRDC showed that the SPPAL (Saskatchewan Police Predictive Analytics Lab -a co-operation between the provincial Ministry of Justice, University and police) is at work analyzing historical data about missing persons, with special attention towards kids in provincial care and Indigenous people. The next step in the development of a predictive tool will be implementing social service and social media data monitoring.

In Saskatchewan, there are more than 100 unsolved missing person cases. Studying social media activity has already proved useful to the Canadian police before, and the main provincial authorities have agreed to share information with the SPPAL.

The oppositions are expressed by lawyer Tamir Israel of the Canadian legal clinic CIPPIC (a legal clinic that focuses on tech-related issues). In his email to Motherboard he wrote: “We know that predictive models are far from infallible in real-life scenarios and that there will be false positives, the consequences of an intervention based on a false positive can be very serious.”

He underlined how feeding predictive models with poor quality data (such as social media posts) increases the chances of false positives. He then describes how the flaws of the predictive model would mostly affect the groups, such as Indigenous women and children, among which the number of missing people is higher: “we have already seen cases where predictive models had deep racial biases”.

But Canadian authorities have already shown, as Motherboard reported this February, great commitment into monitoring especially the young population, and in data-feeding their RTD. It would seem that the era of the digital “Precog” is coming, like it or not.

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