How deepfake CCTV could put someone at the scene of a crime...or remove them

We need to find time to look at how crime is changing

It’s easy in justice to live in the now; obsess about the problems that are exercising us in the moment – the court backlogs, the prison population, the financing of services from policing to third sector, early release. We should obsess, these issues require immediate attention and decisions, we need to fix the system whilst it’s moving. The danger is always that we act like an emergency room, dealing with immediate trauma and not thinking about the future or how to change the system.

It has always been thus. In truth we spend a lot of time in crisis, spend hours in meetings working out what to do next, presented with difficult decisions about how to keep the system going or releasing the pressure when it cannot take any more. But we need to find time to look at what is coming over the horizon, how crime is changing and how we might need to respond to it.

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I had the opportunity to spend a day listening to experts talk of the challenges of deepfakes and how even though the artificial intelligence detection tools are increasingly sophisticated, they can often fail. If this all feels quite technical then let me introduce you to a new term I’ve learned ‘ELI5’ or ‘explain it like I’m five’. There is often CCTV or video of people at crime scenes which is used in evidence to prove a case. But deepfakes are so sophisticated now that it is increasingly difficult to prove that they are ‘fake’. We could see an alternative video presented as evidence which could show that a suspect was elsewhere. When you remember it’s not always local authority CCTV that is used in cases, it could be footage from a whole range of cameras, you start to understand the challenges. Deepfakes could put someone at the scene of a crime, prompting investigation or could suggest that consent is given in sexual assault cases.

Then there’s cryptocurrency and the billions of pounds which end up in drugs and terrorism or go to countries who present nuclear threats – but there are talented financial analysts and crime investigators who follow money and track bank accounts all over the world. Those of us who don’t live in that world might have heard of Bitcoin or Ethereum but don’t really understand how it works or how to buy and exchange these currencies. Some of the people who really understand it, who are the experts and run incredibly profitable businesses are in criminal organisations. Police colleagues need to follow the money or the digital trail until that gets converted into hard cash. This takes new skills, new IT, a different recruitment paradigm where we get talented people from the tech industries, whilst fighting off Silicon Valley and tech start-ups who proffer increasingly attractive salaries.

These are but two of the current and future challenges. After listening to back-to-back inputs from experts about the changing nature of crime and offending I’m enthused about the quality of the individuals who are working to keep people safe from a future that is on our doorstep.

Karyn McCluskey is Chief Executive of Community Justice Scotland

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