Monthly Archives: March 2017

Is it Ethical to use data for profiling  people? 

We all do it all the time – At what stage can it become unethical?
I find when starting to look at ethics and technology that the best thing to do is to think of a real world example. Work that through and see how you feel about it – then you know whether the technical idea is ethical or not and what mitigations or controls you need to put in place to ensure that it is.
So here is an example close to home that a friend explained to me. My friend was brought up in the same area of London as Stephen Lawrence, is black and the same age as Stephen Lawrence was.
Police in the area haven’t always behaved totally respectfully or fairly towards young black men in Eltham.
So I want to look at the Ethics around the controversial practice of stop and search – something which has happened to my friend twice in his life with different outcomes. Stop and search has in the past been one of the factors triggering riots. The cost to society of getting this right can be significant.

Step one
So here’s what happens. A street crime is committed and the Victim report to the perpetrator perpetrator is a young black man.
Here is the data field we are interested in – no IOT required to measure this – just a pair of eyes to decide if someone is black.
So a call goes out on the police radios to ask all police in the vicinity to stop and search young black men and question them about the crime.
Check – is this OK so far? Yes it is. It’s factual and reasonable, one obvious note to make here is that the same call could not have gone out if the man had been white because the police would not have had the capacity to stop and search every white man.

Step 2
A policeman approaches my friend (young black man) and stops and searches him. On the first occasion this happened to my friend the policeman was rude and humiliating and he came away feeling very angry and unco-operative towards the police in the future.
But on the second time it happened to him the policeman was sensitive enough to explain the situation fully – almost apologetic – but nevertheless thorough – so the end result experience was fine. My friend felt it was totally reasonable that he should’ve been approached and was happy to help.
The only thing different was the intervention and how it was conducted – sensitively or not – consensually or not.
That is what makes it ethical or not.