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New computer programs might uncover terrorists

Published söndag 27 december 2015 kl 13.36
"But following a person on social media might be a violation of privacy"
(2:15 min)
FOI. the Defence Research Agency, Photo: Johan Nilsson/Scanpix
FOI. the Defence Research Agency, Photo: Johan Nilsson/Scanpix

Researchers at the Swedish Defence Research Agency are developing new methods to uncover potential terrorists online.

“The Internet plays a very important role, both for radicalization and for preparations for terrorist crimes,” researcher Lisa Kaati tells Swedish Radio News.

Several new projects are underway to detect radicalization and potential terrorists online. These include research in psychology aimed at behavior that can leave indications that someone is prepared to use violence for political ends.

“And we think we can detect some of this behavior in social media, that people write about themselves in a particular way,” she says. “Then it’s a long way from finding someone’s Internet persona to being able to make contact with the physical person.”

The researchers are trying to find personal “writing prints”, sort of like online fingerprints, to try to connect several aliases that belong to the same person. The “writing print” is identified using both the writing style, and the time of the day posts are made.

But, Lisa Kaati says, it’s a sensitive issue for the Defence Research Agency.

“Following a person on several social media might be a violation of privacy,” she says. “Based on how a person writes, you can work out age and gender, and that’s obviously intrusive.”

So far, this is just at the research level. Lisa Kaati says how such methods might actually be put into practice by the police or other agencies is a completely different issue. Also, it isn’t a crime to hold extremist opinions. Lisa Kaati says she can understand why some are concerned about privacy issues.

“But that’s why it’s important that this research is carried out, and that we are transparent about what we are doing,” she says. “It would just be more Big Brother if a bunch of secret organizations were doing this research without anyone knowing about it. The Defence Research Agency is rather open about what we’re doing, and our scientific results are published.”

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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