D-SCENT: Raising challenges to deception attempts using data scent trails

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Psychology


Since 9-11 and 7-7, terrorism has been a major public concern. To ensure public safety and to protect the UK economy, research is needed that offers new methods to foil attacks before they are executed, to identify people and networks who might be preparing for or undertaking an attack, and to provide clear evidence that can be used to justify questioning, arrests and prosecutions. In this study, we will investigate whether deception can be identified and proved from 'scent trails', that is, coherent accounts of suspects' activities over time compiled from tracking their movements, communications and behaviours. We will develop software to derive inferences about what activities are consistent with suspects' scent trails and what are ruled out. These inferences will allow investigators to challenge suspects, both in real time (e.g., to encourage suspects to abandon an ongoing attack) and during interviews (e.g., to point out inconsistencies between a suspect's account and scent trail evidence that might change the course of an interview). The project will investigate scent trails in the context of people undertaking deceptive activities to gain advantage in adversarial 'treasure hunt'-type games. The games will be developed in consultation with stakeholders to provide a non-sensitive analogy to counter-terrorism contexts. Players, typically undergraduate students paid for participation, will be monitored during games via positional and communication data obtained from mobile devices enabled with geospatial positioning devices. Novel software for integrating these data will be developed to build up scent trails of players' activities during game play. Methods of artificial intelligence will be combined to derive inferences from the scent trails about what kinds of activity are possible and impossible given a player's location, trajectory, activities and links with others. We envision games with 3 teams: Team A represent the adversary, Team B the police or general public, and Team C the intelligence services. Team A scores points by visiting target locations within a time limit under a set of game rules that they must violate if they are to win. They must try to hide rule violations from Team B, who score points by preventing or identifying Team A's deceptions successfully. Team C can challenge Team A by sending them indications of the scent trails that are held or can feed Team B intelligence information. Moreover, the inferences from scent trails will support Team C in deciding how best to prove or falsify a suspicion during an interview with Team A players at key points during the games. By conducting observation of players during games, we can investigate how people change their behaviours when they are confronted with evidence that reveals their deceptions. We will also interview players at key points during games as a simulation of interviews with suspects, eliciting from players accounts of their activities before presenting them with challenges based on their own scent trails that are either consistent or inconsistent with legal game playing. This will allow interview and analysis techniques to be improved and will provide clues as to how people subsequently change their behaviour after they have been confronted with their deception. The results will also allow us to test between hypotheses deriving from forensic psychology as to how best to detect deception. The research also allows us to explore public awareness of, and response to, monitoring and surveillance in counter-terrorism. With an advisory panel of stakeholders and subject specialists representing key public and academic bodies, we will identify ethical and legal issues associated with collecting and using data on peoples' movements through public spaces. We will also conduct questionnaire studies with game players and others not involved in the games, to measure attitudes to monitoring and surveillance in game-playing and other contexts.


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