With the advent and use of new technologies, now on its way to Web 3.0, criminologists have in many instances begun to try preempting criminal offenses. Institutions doing so include not only the police, but also state security, both working in an environment marked by the bulkhead principle – under which units hardly communicate among and autonomously follow trails and leads, largely working autonomously.
While the bulkhead principle is meant to ensure that information does not leak, and that that the risk of social actors perceiving operational details (be it political parties or other social actors, individuals or organized groups) is low, the said principle can lead to the manifestation of inherent risks itself: due to oversight gaps, anonymous reports meant to ensure plausible deniability, and the lack of proper enforcement within the respective units, there have been rumors of instances of obvious excess and concealment among members of such units comparable to the known problem of the ‘AI gone crazy.’
In fact, the impossibility to grasp the importance of operations can lead to teams working in a frame of reference amounting to a job-creation scheme – creating work for themselves by means of exaggeration and by abiding by the rules only loosely. With a view on pre-crime, such a situation, especially where so-called ‘agents provocateurs’ are part of the units or report to them, can increase risk by bringing about forms of radicalization of the subjects of investigation instead of minimizing risks, although that should be the overall goal.
Where the bulkhead principle, which does have its advantages, is to continue to apply, rules should be sharpened, oversight should constitute more than visits or reads of reports on a test basis, and there should be the option for any member of the team to call his or her co-workers to reason, be it by announcing to impose a full stop of ongoing strings of operations, and by enforcing such a halt, or by bringing about disciplinary action. This can happen through oversight units much more continuously supervising crime monitoring units by the same technical means as mentioned above, i.e. the bulkhead principle…
Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip
26 November 2022