University of Cambridge > > Computer Laboratory Security Seminar > Influence Policing: Mapping the Rise of Strategic Communications and Digital Behaviour Change within UK Law Enforcement and Security Services

Influence Policing: Mapping the Rise of Strategic Communications and Digital Behaviour Change within UK Law Enforcement and Security Services

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In this talk, I set out an emerging phenomenon in UK law enforcement – the use of digital ‘nudge’ communications campaigns to achieve strategic policing and security goals. Over the last year, we have studied the use of these campaigns by a single force – Police Scotland – in depth, drawing on empirical research conducted with their dedicated strategic communications team. These campaigns, which involve extremely targeted digital communications designed to directly ‘nudge’ behaviour and shape the culture of particular groups, began in counter-radicalisation as part of the UK’s Prevent programme, but have since moved into a range of other policing areas, from hate crime and domestic violence to knife crime and cybercrime. I set out the historical context of these campaigns in the UK, from their roots in social marketing, through the various iterations of the Prevent strategy, the rise of algorithmic digital marketing infrastructures and surveillance capitalist platforms, and their subsequent transfer from counter-terror policing to a range of other areas. Our study explores the developing institutional and professional arrangements around these campaigns in Police Scotland and the wider UK through interviews and document-based research, drawing on case studies of campaigns across a range of areas. Taking these together, we theorise the rise of influence policing as an embryonic but rapidly emerging domain of police practice, and discuss the ethical, institutional, and democratic implications for the future of law enforcement in the UK.

Ben Collier is Lecturer in Digital Methods at the Institute of Science, Technology, and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on digital infrastructure as a site of power and resistance, including mixed-methods studies of cybercrime communities, law enforcement engagements with Internet infrastructure, and an upcoming book with MIT Press which maps a cultural history of the Tor anonymity network.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Security Seminar series.

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