Friday, 25 May 2018

Jeff Jonas has been helping banks and government agencies track down criminals. In his own words, "hunting clever bad people." Whilst he may sound like a keen investigator, he is, in fact, a computer programmer.

Senzing, Jonas' startup has created software that helps global organisations comb through data to catch criminals much faster than humans can.

Since the company spun out of IBM in 2016, they have been in "stealth mode" but they are now preparing to publicly announce that they are open for business.

They are able to catch criminals with data as "terrorists and bank fraudsters have shared patterns of behaviour" Jonas says, "they don't use the same name, phone and email everywhere they go. They change their name a little bit; they use a throwaway email they're going to use for just a month; they flip phones every so often." Jonas says that are looking for "glitches in the fabric where they haven't changed their information enough", such as using similar addresses or not changing their date of birth completely.

Jonas is reluctant to reveal too much about how his data software works as "it's not helpful to teach bad people how you're stopping them." However, he has revealed that it relies on following two rules: identifying information that culprits cannot possibly know you possess, or "computing all the information [you do hold] in ways they can't even imagine... if you want to catch bad guys, you really just have to think about rule one and two."

He believes "you have to count on [them making mistakes]... it's so hard to have perfect tradecraft." He knows this better than most as it was his software which helped to bring down a group of MIT card counters. Senzing began when he left his role as an IBM fellow in 2016. They let him take his project and his team alongside a pile of patents that they can use. This means that unlike other startups, they have a proven team and proven software.

Due to the nature of the work the software helps to carry out, there are privacy concerns. However, Jonas insists that he is passionate about safeguarding privacy and that no data organisations use flows directly to Senzing.

But for Albert Gidari, director of privacy at Stanford Law School, there are wider concerns. "When it comes to government agencies relying on data to treat you in a certain way and subject you to surveillance those are pretty serious things under our law."

He continued: "The great problem with AI is we don't have any post-hoc rules. Most people won't know they're being surveilled and they won't know how that conclusion was reached.

Jay Stanley, from the American Civil Liberties Union, has warned against using new technologies to predict individuals future behaviour based on their past performance. He states that "we don't know what data they're using and how they're using it."

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