Improving Law Enforcement with OSINT

The following is an excerpt from an article published on 23 August 2018 by Natalie Faulk on Medium.com.


Open source intelligence (OSINT) is any intelligence derived from publicly available information sources that anyone can “lawfully obtain by request, purchase, or observation.” From a law enforcement perspective, OSINT can assist with categorizing and verifying facts, identifying criminals, understanding ideologies, and recognizing emerging crime trends. In recent years, the availability of OSINT has exploded. In fact, this type of intelligence provides a significant amount of information used by intelligence and security agencies to identify risks and make effective and timely strategic decisions.


There are several pros and cons of using OSINT. Perhaps the biggest advantage of OSINT is the fact that it is far less expensive than more traditional information-collecting tools, thus offering a greater potential return on investment (ROI). Given that when states, counties, and municipalities are faced with budget cuts, law enforcement resources are oftentimes on the chopping block, it makes sense to embrace technologies that are not only effective but also less expensive.


"Perhaps the biggest advantage of OSINT is the fact that it is far less expensive than more traditional information-collecting tools, thus offering a greater potential return on investment (ROI)"

Another benefit of OSINT is that information can be easily — and legally — shared with other agencies. The best sources of OSINT include periodicals, newspapers, television and radio broadcasts, public databases, directories, open discussions and forums, government reports, newsletters, blogs, social media platforms, commercial information from vendors, search engines, RSS feeds, and websites. In fact, the rapid growth of the Internet has made it a major source of knowledge. Of particular concern, however, is to understand that quantity does not necessarily mean quality, so any open source information should be viewed with a critical eye for credibility and veracity.


A wealth of knowledge can be found in OSINT. Extremist individuals and groups oftentimes want to share their goals and beliefs, so they tend to post frequently in a variety of media to spread their message. Further, criminals enjoy the anonymity they believe the Internet provides. Social media platforms have become a central hub of criminal indoctrination and terrorist radicalization, and investigators would be foolish to not take advantage of this incredible source of intelligence.


Further, because open sources are referred to as sources of first resort, this type of intelligence poses a minimal intrusion on civil liberties. Especially with respect to social media platforms and other public online forums, that individuals and groups post willingly to these sites essentially negates any future claim of civil rights infringement.


"Social media platforms have become a central hub of criminal indoctrination and terrorist radicalization, and investigators would be foolish to not take advantage of this incredible source of intelligence."

One of the biggest shortcomings of OSINT is the potential for information overload due to the tremendous amount of “noise” on the Internet. Thus, locating the correct information can become quite time-consuming. Additionally, OSINT is not generally ready-to-use. Instead, analysis of raw data is necessary to identify credible, valid, and verifiable information. Even if the initial information may not be the best, it can provide a starting point for additional investigation.


Another obstacle involves the potential for analysts to lack adequate subject matter expertise in identifying appropriate OSINT. Relatedly, one’s inherent bias against such information may also serve to reduce the potential of such information. Other potential barriers include the lack of effective analytic tools and the fact that multiple media outlets report on the dame story, thus potentially skewing a particular source and giving it more credibility than warranted.


Despite these potential shortcomings, OSINT is a critical tool that should be in every law enforcement agency’s repertoire because of the potential wealth of valuable information therein. Over the years, intelligence agencies have been criticized for failing to take advantage of available OSINT. From the 1996 Aspin-Brown Commission to the 2001 9/11 Commission to the 2005 WMD Commission, increased use of available OSINT could have led to dramatically different outcomes.

"OSINT is a critical tool that should be in every law enforcement agency’s repertoire because of the potential wealth of valuable information therein."

Given the evolution of criminals and the spread of deviant ideologies, technology has had to keep pace. Thus, it makes sense for law enforcement agencies to stay abreast of new methods to obtain intelligence in order to enhance their identification and apprehension of criminals and prevention of crime. That the military and security agencies have openly embraced OSINT and AI as both force and resource multipliers to improve their intelligence collection efforts begs the question as to why police agencies have been hesitant to take the plunge to make AI and OSINT a growing part of their current activities. While not a complete substitute for more traditional intelligence gathering efforts and policing activities, OSINT and AI provide significant cost-effective enhancements that free up valuable resources in terms of time and manpower to improve an agency’s efficacy.

 

Click here to read the full article by Natalie Faulk on Medium.com entitled "Improving Law Enforcement Intelligence Gathering and Use with Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)."

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