Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Unmasking Banksy: Did 'Predictive Policing' Tool Catch an Artist?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Unmasking Banksy: Did 'Predictive Policing' Tool Catch an Artist?

Article excerpt

A geographic profiling tool, developed to find serial criminals and terrorists, may have helped unmask the mystery identity of Banksy.

Researchers say they have identified the elusive artist - creator of million-dollar works of political graffiti - as Robin Gunningham, supporting a theory published by Daily Mail in 2008.

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London used a statistical tool to map 140 locations of Banksy's works around Bristol and London and compare them to the homes of possible candidates, they wrote in the Journal of Spatial Science. That led them to Mr. Gunningham.

This mathematical method of analysis, known as criminal and geographic profiling, is often used by law enforcement to identify serial criminals. The idea behind the technique is that people tend to commit crimes close to where they live.

The technique has also been used to trace breeding sites for malaria outbreaks or to locate the roosts of wild bats, and the researchers suggested that what helped find one graffiti artist could also help locate terrorists.

"More broadly, these results support previous suggestions that analysis of minor terrorism-related acts (e.g., graffiti) could be used to help locate terrorist bases before more serious incidents occur," they wrote in their abstract.

Not everyone accepts that geographical profiling can accurately pinpoint perpetrators, though it's used by several US police departments.

Data-fueled analytics also called "predictive policing," has drawn considerable critics, arguing that the method is discriminatory and often targets minorities.

"What data are they using? How are they weighing variables? What values and biases are coded into them? writes Jathan Sadowski, for the Guardian. "Even the companies that develop them can't answer all those questions, and what they do know can't be divulged because of trade secrets."

"Police departments are opening the way for corporations to have disproportionate influence over what policing means in society," he adds. …

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