Should Open Source Intelligence Be Used For Policy Making?

from the transparent-and-verifiable dept

Last summer, we wrote about the rise of open journalism, whereby people take publicly-available information, typically on social networks, to extract important details that other, more official sources either overlook or try to hide. Since then, one of the pioneers of that approach, Eliot Higgins, has used crowdfunding to set up a site called "Bellingcat", dedicated to applying these techniques. Principal themes there include the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), and the civil war in Syria.

Higgins recently published a post on the blog of the Policy Institute at King's College, London, in which he suggested that such open source intelligence (OSINT) could be used for formulating policy in situations where traditional sources of information are limited:

In recent years, content shared via social media from conflict war zones has allowed us to gain a far deeper understanding of the on-the-ground realities of specific conflicts than previously possible. This presents a real opportunity for providing robust evidence which can underpin foreign and security policymaking about emerging, or rapidly escalating, conflict zones.
He cites his own group's work on the shooting-down of the MH17 flight as an example, noting some of the advantages and challenges:
Our research on the Buk missile launcher demonstrates that not only is there a wealth of largely untapped information available online and especially on social media, but also that a relatively small team of analysts is able to derive a rich picture of a conflict zone. Clearly, research of this kind must be underpinned by an understanding of the way in which content is being produced, who is sharing it, and, crucially, how to verify it -- and these are methodological challenges which need to be addressed systematically.
That call for open source information to be used more widely has now been echoed by two researchers at the International Centre for Security Analysis, also at King's College -- not surprisingly, perhaps, since they too use this technique in their work:
There is a powerful case for incorporating OSINT approaches to evidence-based policymaking. In the first place, evidence produced by OSINT methods can be both robust and rigorous, not least because it can be underpinned by extensive datasets. And in the second, it has the potential to be both transparent and verifiable; all open source evidence is, by definition, based on data that is publicly (and often freely) available.
However, they note that so far the uptake of such methods to inform policy-making has been very limited. Here's why:
At the heart of the problem is the fact that OSINT approaches are still relatively 'young' and, all too often in our experience, lack the rigour and reliability needed to underpin effective policymaking.
To overcome those issues, they suggest that practitioners of OSINT should develop more reliable open intelligence tools and methods, and should communicate better the advantages of this approach. They also urge policy makers to take open source intelligence into consideration as an additional form of evidence, but given the conservatism and risk aversion in these circles, I imagine it will take some time before that happens.

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  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 25 Feb 2015 @ 9:46pm

    That won't do at all. It's so much better to spy on the social media accounts of particular people or vacuum up everything and store it in data warehouses. Just following and searching for information that people openly give out is so plebeian.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan G Difino, 25 Feb 2015 @ 10:39pm

    First things first

    How about we just start with intelligence in policy making and go from there..

    People give up their US Constitutional rights when they conspire to join the enemy against the USA. In time of war, these people could be tried by military court tribunals. Lawyers attempting to defend these enemies should be tried for aiding the enemy. But some would still rather make a name for themselves in defense of these enemies who would have killed Americans and not even thought twice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 11:13pm

      Re: First things first

      If we're going to deny these "enemies" the defense of a lawyer, why bother with the effort of a kangaroo court trial? Just summarily execute them once we're done torturing them for whatever information they have.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2015 @ 12:46am

        Re: Re: First things first

        Sometimes I wonder if people who make such comments are sarcastic, truly deluded, or trolling.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Dan G Difino, 26 Feb 2015 @ 10:00am

          Re: Re: Re: First things first

          War is not defensible in a courtroom, only on a battlefield. To let these savages get off on a technicality in court, these enemies of the free world who you will never be able to trust and never change to come around to your peacible way of thinking, perhaps would absolutely be one of the biggest mistakes we could ever make. These abominations want to be martyrs for their ideology, let them go on a hunger strike in prison. But don't try to defend them so they can go out and kill as many innocent people as they can. No dillusions about it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Dan G Difino, 26 Feb 2015 @ 9:47am

        Re: Re: First things first

        While you are sitting on your thumbs in court defending someone who would have blown you up and your next of kin without batting an eye, but high fives all around, waisting taxpayer dollars while lawyers get richer, the bottom line is these people can't deserve the same defense that citizens of the free nations of the world get because they made a choice to help destroy those free nations. Line em up and shoot 'em is all they deserve in my book. They declared war against us. The same rules in a civilized world no longer apply when we are talking war.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      alternatives(), 26 Feb 2015 @ 5:06am

      Re: First things first

      they conspire to join the enemy against the USA.

      Yea, people like the proposed targets of the sniper squad, right?

      Any given week what you can be a 'traitor' for is announced, that's a good enough metric for "enemy of the USA" - right?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 11:07pm

    Policy making should involve lying to the public, covering up the truth, and when the truth leaks continue with the old lies as if the leaks never happened. Policy making should have no regard for truth or the public interest, only the interests of those in power.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2015 @ 7:42am

    Anecdotal

    So, gather some anecdotal information off of social media, then qualify it with more anecdotal information from different social media sites, and then quantify it with enumeration of how much anecdotal information was compiled, and you wind up with a bunch of anecdotal horse pucky.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 26 Feb 2015 @ 8:08am

    OSI?

    I'd be happy if there were any intelligence involved in policy making.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2015 @ 12:06pm

    Is this supposed to be a news story or something? Open Source Intelligence has been used extensively by intelligence agencies for the best part of twenty years. With due allowance for its limitations, it's very useful in certain circumstances. Governments have been doing for years what these researchers are suggesting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 26 Feb 2015 @ 4:25pm

    Reality based policy? On Earth???

    I'm not sure I understand.

    Are they saying that they wish to replace the current and long standing government-type public-relations based propaganda and corporate-profit-driven policy-making with a form of publically analyzable and verifiable policy making, derived from factual data garnered from myriad on-the-site social media outlets and other sources that can be easily verified as factual?

    If so, it'll never be allowed as long as money runs the world and honesty is seen as the enemy of the state.

    In the real world, the truth is only important if manipulation and factual massaging can make it work for those in power. This sort of process would expose such manipulation constantly, continuously ruining the game for those at the head of the food chain.

    The unfettered and raw truth is something humanity has seldom witnessed on earth. It would topple empires and destroy the ability of wealthy men to make the rules, and thus, cannot be allowed.

    ----

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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