mark-testoniMark Testoni, CEO & President, SAP National Security Services (SAP NS2), argues that digital tracking is no longer a question of technology but rather of a complex policy debate…

We are seeing a major revolution in the scope and size of open source data. This growth has enabled commercial technologies to conduct analysis on the fly and harness the digital patterns of suspicious lives for investigatory purposes. It is now possible to identify and connect suspects and organizations through their activities using open source data, such as social media and other public domain information.

Due to recent developments in in-memory high-performance computing, new applications and algorithmic capacities now allow for sentiment and link analysis in scores of languages, dialects, and local conventions. Alongside traditional methods of collection, this development offers huge potential for investigators to more readily identify nefarious actors, infiltrate their execution time-windows, unravel their networks, and mitigate attacks.

Today, biometrics plays a significant role in tracking bad actors. At border control, biometric data is collected from foreign nationals every time they enter our country. This data is then compared against known and unknown identities collected by the DoD, the FBI, and other agencies worldwide.

Using biometrics for tracking in this way is no longer a question of technology but rather of tackling a privacy challenge. Biometrics such as fingerprints, retina, and DNA typically require some sort of consent or cooperation by the subject. However, facial recognition can be collected from just about any camera and intelligence groups can link this data together to reveal the exact paths an individual has taken.

Massive amounts of data can be synthesized with an exceptionally granular level of detail and highlight patterns and associations previously undetected

Privacy concerns are also raised by tracking agencies using video capture from CCTV footage and rapid analytics tools. With the emergence of machine learning, for example, surveillance bodies can harness data pulled from widely open sources, including the internet, social media, news sites, and geospatial information. Massive amounts of data can be synthesized with an exceptionally granular level of detail and highlight patterns and associations previously undetected.

This ‘thinking’ and examination is performed in real-time, even as new data pours in – a capability which allows intelligence analysts to really zoom in on potential problems hidden in huge amounts of information.

While innovation in digital tracking offers exceptional opportunities for surveillance, it also opens important debates on ethics and personal privacy. Pertinent examples of this include the recent controversy surrounding Apple vs. FBI, and the Senate rejecting an amendment to allow the FBI to view website browsing history without a court order.

While the 4th Amendment protects us against unreasonable searches, it remains to be seen whether content that a suspect voluntarily posts on the internet, for example on social media, falls under these protections. Considering these new realities and demands of the digital age, it is the debates around privacy which will drive the evolution of tracking policies in the future.