Big Data is a Hotbed of Thoughtcrime, Part II: The Code

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At Strata 2012 in New York, we discussed the hazards of curbing big data inferences by defining a new category of thoughtcrime. After all, acting on thoughts might constitute a crime, but thoughts, in isolation, cannot be criminal. It’s time to go deeper. Let’s create and evaluate a predictive criminal model that highlights where the sensitivities lie, both technically and ethically.

Over the last decade, Intelius has built a people-centric big data platform — what we call the inome platform. We’ll use it and our criminal database of several hundred million U.S. criminal records to train and evaluate a predictive criminal model. As part of this talk, we’ll release the model and some of the inome machine-learning scaffolding code.

What makes big data so scary is that, for the first time, we are leveraging huge data mines to make inferences outside the wisdom of our own minds. Is it possible to predict, with meaningful recall and acceptable precision, who might commit a crime? We’ll showcase our model’s shortcomings due to inescapable precision/recall trade-offs — false negatives miss criminals while false positives indict the innocent. And even if we could build a perfect predictor, does a powerful government have the right to use it and eclipse free will?

Photo of Jim Adler

Jim Adler


Jim is a business executive, entrepreneur, and thought leader on big data, privacy, security, and voting systems. Currently, Jim is VP of Products & Chief Privacy Officer at Metanautix. He also currently serves on the The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee (DPIAC) providing advice at the request of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the DHS Chief Privacy Officer.

Most recently, Jim was Vice President, Data Systems at inome and the first Chief Privacy Officer at Intelius. Jim led the big data team that powers the company’s products as well as serving as its chief consumer advocate. Prior to inome and Intelius, Jim served as president and chief technology officer at, an Internet company giving consumers control of their online identity and reputation. He was the founder and CEO of VoteHere, a pioneer in the development of private and secure electronic voting. He is a co-inventor of patents related to cryptographic voting and digital signatures. Jim has also served on the advisory boards of the Future of Privacy Forum and Helios Voting. Jim received his bachelor’s degree with high honors in electrical engineering from the University of Florida and his master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California, San Diego.

Jim blogs about privacy, data, and leadership at Follow him on Twitter @jim_adler.


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