ERCIM News 89

Image ERCIM News 89 cover page
April 2012
Special theme: Big Data
Guest editors: Stefan Manegold, Martin Kersten (CWI) and Costantino Thanos (ISTI-CNR)

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Crime and Corruption Observatory: Big Questions behind Big Data

by Giulia Bonelli, Mario Paolucci and Rosaria Conte

Can we have information in advance on organized crime movements? How can fraud and corruption be fought? Can cybercrime threats be tackled in a safe way? The Crime and Corruption Observatory of the European Project FuturICT will work at answering these questions. Starting from Big Data, it will face big challenges, and will propose new ways to analyse and understand social phenomena.

The cost of crime in the United States is estimated to be more than $1 trillion annually. The cost of corruption ranges from 2 to 5 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), ie from $800 billion to $2 trillion US dollars. The cost of war on terrorism in the US since 9/11 is over $1 trillion.

These are just a few examples of the huge impact of crime on social, legal and economic systems. The situation in Europe is similarly dramatic. To face the problem in a new way, the “Crime and Corruption Observatory” is being set up in order to develop new technology to study and predict the evolution of phenomena that threaten the security of our society. The Observatory aims at building a data infrastructure to support crime prevention and reduce the costs of crime.

From BigData to virtual models of our society  (image by courtesy of FuturICT)
From BigData to virtual models of our society  (image by courtesy of FuturICT)

The starting point is Big Data: the huge amount of digital information now available enables the development of virtual techno-socio-economic models from existing and new information technology systems. The Observatory will collect huge data sets and run massive data mining and large-scale computer simulations of social dynamics related to criminal activities. It will be built using innovative technological instruments. This approach requires an internationally recognized scientifically grounded strategy, able to embrace different national policies, since global threats such as crime and corruption require global answers.

The Observatory will be built as a European network, with a central node probably in Italy. A large number of important European universities and research institutions will cooperate to develop the necessary components. Scientists from many different fields - from cognitive and social science to criminology, from artificial intelligence to complexity science, from statistics to economics and psychology - will be involved, establishing a pool of varied expertise. The method will thus be strongly interdisciplinary: this is the only way to promote a real paradigm shift in our approach to policy and decision-making. On the one hand, the way policies are designed can be enhanced through innovative “what-if” analyses developed by complex models and simulations. On the other hand, the goal is to create new tools to support police and security agencies and services with more effective instruments for law enforcement.

The Crime and Corruption Observatory is part of a broader European project called FuturICT, which was the first of six “FET Flagship”pilots selected by the European Commission as part of the Framework 7 Programme.

The mission of FuturICT is to unleash the power of information for a sustainable future: a Living Earth Simulator will be built to understand and manage complex social systems, with a focus on sustainability and resilience. Within this framework, the Crime and Corruption Observatory will identify the underlying economical, social and cultural mechanisms that influence illegal phenomena, in order to control them at European level.

Addressing important issues, such as fighting against terrorism and organized crime, fraud detection, and maintaining internal and external security, certainly requires the use of modern technology, but this is not enough. Data must be transformed into information and then into knowledge, to reveal the real meaning of the billions of bits gathered worldwide. For this reason, behind Big Data lie Big Questions: the Crime and Corruption Observatory will identify fundamental issues about the dynamics of crime and their implications, developing solutions and innovative theories at the same time.

Data technology will thus become both responsive and responsible: it will provide not only practical answers but also reliable theoretical tools, since Big Data should always have underlying Big Questions.

Link: http://www.futurict.eu

Please contact:
Giulia Bonelli
ISTC-CNR, Italy
Tel: +39 338 8689020
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mario Paolucci
ISTC-CNR, Italy
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rosaria Conte
ISTC-CNR, Italy
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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