Open source intelligence and ethics

Spy by Leonardo Veras
Spy by Leonardo Veras used under CC-BY 2.0

Evanna Hu has written a guest post on the Responsible Data Forum about Responsible Data Concerns with Open Source Intelligence. I basically agree with everything in that post, which you might think makes this post a bit superfluous but I’ve got to write something every day in November. Cos Dan Slee challenged me to.

Open Source Intelligence is intelligence based on publicly available information. Unless you work with open source intelligence (as I do for humanitarian purposes) I think it is hard to get your head around the detail and sophistication of data that it is often possible to derive from public sources.

I’ve written before of the privacy concerns that I think need to be more properly addressed by public bodies. What Evanna Hu’s post highlights is how much further this debate should go in organisations.

There is the legal framework (which is really what I was talking about in that post). I was really struck by Evanna’s statement

As with many responsible data concerns, legal compliance is just one part of a much bigger picture, and it often forms the lowest bar rather than the best practice we should strive for.

And the legal concerns I raised are really fairly specific and limited. An ethical framework would go much further. I’d be really interested to hear from any public bodies that have done work on this.

As a society, we need to go much further. We don’t really have cultural norms for the use of publicly available data by anyone. In many circumstances it may not be state actors that we should be most concerned about. We need to encourage, as well as legal frameworks, a global set of standards that we can hold all organisations to.

But maybe we can start in the UK. Is there any organisation interested in leading?