The Carabinieri, Italy’s military police, used a new software platform to analyze the phone records of organized crime groups. Here’s what happened.
There’s a reason why the NSA likes metadata so much. Metadata–the auxiliary data generated by every digital move you make–can track a person’s digital life in detail. Now a team of Italian academics are showing how metadata can reveal the structure of organized crime groups with a software tool called LogAnalysis, which combines information from mobile phone records with police databases. And among LogAnalysis’s first users is the Carabinieri, the Italian military police.
Emilio Ferrara, a postdoc at Indiana University, created LogAnalysis with three researchers from the University of Messina in Sicily. Ferrara explains that their platform “infers, with pretty high confidence, the roles of individuals involved in criminal activity from communication data, simply looking at patterns and network features.”
Here’s how it works: Police feed phone logs they obtain into LogAnalysis; those then get mashed up with mug shots, criminal records, and other proprietary information from police databases. This information then shapes the Carabinieri’s investigations by giving vital clues about intra-group relationships of an organized crime group believed to be behind robberies, extortions, and narcotics trafficking. It’s important to note that their paper anonymized all records, and did not identify which organized crime group Italian law enforcement were investigating.
It turns out that metadata can tell quite a lot about the way an organization is set up. Matt Unger, the chief digital officer of New York firm K2 Intelligence, explained over the phone to Fast Company that “with a good analytics platform, cell phone metadata reveals who the influencers are. They are the ones who send and receive the most communications, and you can also see the ripples they make in turn.”
Phi Beta Iota: The core assumption, that the mightiest influencers make and receive the most phone calls, is flat out wrong. This is an excellent program for seeing those who do use the phone as a primary device — it is also helpful at finding access agents for human and counterintelligence purposes. It does NOT actually identify the top of the pyramid nor is it capable of flagging the clandestine moves at lower levels. We do consider it better than other alternatives, but then, we do not think much of any of the fat-finger so-called analytic tools on the market right now.