United States: Business Intelligence can Combat Organized Crime

Published: 14 November 2012


A professor at Georgetown University who also runs a data analytics company says that “big data” can be a major player in the war on crime. In the same way that Google and Target utilize personal web surfing and social media information to customize advertisements, so can law enforcement and intelligence groups analyze criminal behavior to deter illicit activities.

The first step is to take a social science approach, says Professor Gary Shiffman, in which traits are assigned to members of criminal organizations. In his graduate program, Shiffman’s students compiled a list of traits associated with the “success” of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra over 150 years. Those traits included: high cost of defection, effective use of violence, support among local populations and operations in areas of weak government power.

Shiffman writes that these traits apply equally to “politically motivated insurgents and transnational terrorist organizations.”

What’s then necessary is for law enforcement, military and intelligence communities to have access to high-end analytics – the same type that Google deploys – to isolate potential criminals.

More than two million people travel across international borders every day, according to Shiffman’s data, and tracking down perpetrators represents “an historic challenge.”

However, he says, “humans behave in patterns much more predictable than we want to hear, and with the right amount of prior information…we can forecast an individual’s preferences and constraints.”

Shiffman also notes that the importance of local communities is often overlooked. But criminal organizations almost always require support from people outside the core group.

“Focusing not only on the behavior of the criminal, but on the…local populations will provide keys to undermining organized violence,” Shiffman says.