Social networking is a given in today’s society (to include criminal communities) so it’s no surprise law enforcement is getting into the act. Police agencies can now apply social network theory in gathering evidence of criminal activity and to better understand the behaviors and habits of lawbreakers.
Since criminals are just as chatty as law-abiding citizens, the same techniques being used to analyze social or business groups regarding their buying habits, for example, can also work for studying petty thieves, drug dealers, organized crime kingpins and terrorist cells.
University researchers in the United States and Italy first created a software platform that analyzes mobile phone records to track criminal networks, helping investigators understand criminal gangs. Emilio Ferrara and collaborators from the University of Messina, Italy, advanced the system to include Facebook and other social media in the analysis.
Ferrara is now a computer scientist at the USC Information Sciences Institute. Before joining USC in 2015, he was a research assistant professor at Indiana University. Ferrara went to IU Bloomington’s School of Informatics and Computing after earning a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Messina.
The original software platform, called LogAnalysis, offers insight into the makeup of a criminal organization, allowing forensic investigators to understand hierarchies within criminal organizations, discovering members who play a central role and provide connection among sub groups through their phone calls.
One of the first problems any law enforcement agent is likely to come up against when studying messages is the sheer volume of data that this process generates.
But LogAnalysis automatically imports raw phone call records, removes ambiguities and redundancies in the data, and then converts it to a format that can be easily displayed in the kind of visual graphic format that allows more detailed analysis. It also allows law enforcement investigators to add mug shots and other information, such as a suspect’s so-called rap sheet, to the mix.