Interpol must innovate to tackle threats from new tech like AI: UK’s Stephen Kavanagh

The UK candidate for the head of the global policing agency feels in an age driven by climate change, regime change, food insecurity, and moving populations, Interpol is going to be more important than ever.

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Crime committed using newer technologies such as generative artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be solved merely with a national perspective, but requires international cohesion, the UK candidate for the head of Interpol, the global policing agency, told Al Arabiya in an interview.

Ahead of the 2024 election of the Secretary-General of Interpol, Stephen Kavanagh said the issues of AI, combined with ransomware on dark web markets, sexual assaults on the metaverse, grooming of children online, and terrorism are “devastating communities” and “challenging democracies.”

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In a white paper released on January 18, Interpol had warned of “Metacrime” - threats that can emerge within the virtual world where individuals can create digital avatars and build a life online.

Grooming, radicalization, cyber-physical attacks against critical infrastructure, theft of 3D virtual/cultural property, trespassing in private virtual spaces, and robbery have been named as some of the concerns in a virtual environment.

Kavanagh said it was imperative for the international policing agency to innovate in order to remain relevant.

‘Bringing countries together’

“These are crimes that can’t be solved with a national perspective alone. Once we start building a national understanding of how these people are committing such dreadful crimes, Interpol can bring countries together,” he said.

“As we look toward the future in an age driven by climate change, regime change, food insecurity, and moving populations, Interpol is going to be more important than ever. However, it will only be relevant if it starts to innovate, if it starts to use data more effectively, and that includes new technologies,” Kavanagh further said.

Alternatively, Kavanagh, who is a veteran law enforcement official and works with Interpol as Executive Director of Police Services, also believes that AI can aid the agency in its drive to fight crime on the international stage.

“We’ve been able to bring in machine learning technology. When we see a big seizure of drugs or a big terrorist event, we can start bringing in data from member countries. And if you analyze that data quickly, you can share [information] with member countries, see who’s paid to carry out that crime, how they are communicating, what they’re planning for the future, and how we can intercept them,” he explained.

Many instances of misuse of Interpol’s arrest alerts have also been recorded by NGOs and journalists, who claim that the agency’s notice system is being gamed to apprehend people for political reasons. Interpol, which reiterates its neutrality clause, has adapted over time to avoid this undue influence, but more needs to be done, according to the claimants.

In his previous role at Interpol, Kavanagh said he was “determined to develop” a system that uses technology to identify those who misuse Interpol’s policing, acknowledging that risks exist in any policing system. “Interpol has to use technology in the future to identify quickly where those risks are because whatever policing system exists in the world, there’s always a risk of misuse.”

He also called for more funding to strengthen its ability to curb terrorism, pursue weapon smugglers and human traffickers, and adapt to the ever-changing threats.

Calls to diversify

The current Secretary-General is Jürgen Stock of Germany, appointed in November 2014 and reappointed in 2019 to serve a second five-year term.

Brazil’s candidate to head the international police agency, Valdecy Urquiza, told Reuters in an interview earlier that Interpol should elect a new head from a developing nation to diversify the organization and boost its credibility as crime becomes increasingly globalized.

In its 100-year history, Interpol has been headed by men from developed nations in the West, mainly from five countries – four in Europe and the US.

Headquartered in France, Interpol is the world’s largest police coordination body with 196 member countries, connecting police forces from around the world and enabling information sharing.

The current President of Interpol is Major General Ahmed Naser al-Raisi from the UAE.

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