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Spooks and techies to be vetted for their online networks

Who exactly is this smiley character?

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Theory is closely followed by practice: statisticians are busy creating the theoretical framework for deconstructing network dynamics; and practitioners are turning the math into easily accessible tools. Just feed the data in at one end – and out the other will emerge some concept of network structure and the position of each individual within it.

While these are essentially mapping tools, using the links between individuals within a network to create a picture of the relationships between its members, tools that use transaction data can take matters a good deal further.

In 2008, a group of animal rights activists were found guilty of criminal activity in respect of Sequani Ltd, a company alleged to carry out animal testing. Two individuals received significantly longer sentences than the rest of the defendants on the basis that analysis of telephone call traffic – that is, who called whom, when, not what was said – suggested that they were the ringleaders.

Clearly there is a role for statistical analysis when it comes to crime detection, but it may be that the use of statistical techniques to determine guilt or innocence lies at the edge of what most people are comfortable with.

Speculation aside, the message is clear: what you put out on social networking sites can come back to haunt you. When it comes to vetting, it's not just the embarrassing pictures that matter; embarrassing friends – and possibly even friends of friends – may matter as well. ®

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