Social Network Analysis for Law Enforcement

A recent survey conducted by Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions found that about 80% of law enforcement officers use social media platforms to assist in investigations, and 67% of them believe social media helps solve crimes more quickly[1]. Richmond, VA police successfully used Social Network Analysis (SNA) to corroborate evidence collected by detectives in interviews, as well as “piece together 16 different convenience store robberies that were not previously thought to be connected”[2] . However, searches can be time consuming and tedious and with much controversy regarding privacy of a person’s profile, many have buckled down on how public their activities are online. Everybody is familiar with the ad-hoc network diagrams showing linkages between people, places, and crimes traditionally pinned on a corkboard or detective’s wall. Many computerized versions of these network diagrams exist, such as IBM’s i2, Centrifuge Systems, and Sentinel Visualizer. In some ways, social networks make it easier to collect and analyze such networks (except for the crimes themselves – those are typically not posted online). Several Facebook Apps allow you to visualize a social network, but they are restricted to the Facebook users who opt-in to the App. Unfortunately, criminals are leery of such tools and would most often decline such an obvious attempt to infiltrate their network. Some savvy criminals will set their friends list as invisible to non-friends.

LTAS Technologies Inc. develops software tools to identify suspicious or fraudulent activity in online classified ads. They developed Harmari tools 2 years ago to identify unlicensed car dealers, also known as “curbstoners”, that advertise on Craigslist posing as private sellers. Harmari tools now span many different classified sites, auctions, e-commerce and social networks. Harmari tools are used by 4 state/provincial motor vehicle regulators, 1 state revenue agency, and 1 state contractor licensing board to identify curbstoners, tax scofflaws and unlicensed home renovators and contractors. It has proven to be a critical tool for enforcement and compliance by leveraging online, open source intelligence (OSINT).

LTAS’ latest product is the Web Identity Search Tool, aka “WIST”, which does a link analysis between users on Facebook. No opt-in or approval is required from a Facebook user for WIST to identify linkages. So suppose John knows Fred, but Fred’s list of friends is private. As long as John’s list of friends is publicly visible, you will be able to find Fred. WIST can analyze thousands of friends networks in minutes, possibly finding clues available nowhere else in databases.

 

Below is a screenshot of the network diagram from a 2 person WIST match.

Another benefit of WIST is that you can automatically extract a Timeline in one click.  In Facebook you have to tediously hold down the space bar or scroll down to download all the content.

WIST currently works only with Facebook, but there are plans to expand to other social media sites. It is also limited to 3 degrees of separation between any 2 Facebook users.   For more information, visit www.harmari.com.  See if it discovers some new facts about your investigations that you never thought possible.

[1] See http://www.lexisnexis.com/risk/newsevents/press-release.aspx?id=1342623085481181

[2] See http://www.core77.com/blog/technology/visualizing_criminal_networks_to_help_police_solve_crime_22462.asp