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Preventing Transnational Organized Crime with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality: Some Notices

As transnational organized crime (TOC) and terrorism pose serious threats in Europe, we also have to consider some new technological tools to prevent such phenomena. Immersive learning enabled by virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) represent modern ways to combat the phenomena. They can be used at three levels of policing; strategic, operational and tactical. Virtual reality has been used for various targets, such as educational purposes. Moreover, augmented reality can be used for many goals, such as a crime scene investigation. Connections with biometrics would be a highly wished gain by multiple law enforcement authorities but it rises privacy worries. Therefore, legislative points and possible privacy concerns must be taken seriously. A certain worry relates to the ability of criminals to exploit the advantages of AR and VR technology. Because organized crime is always one step ahead of law enforcement, this is an important field to combat the phenomenon.

The usage of AR and VR for achieving the educational objectives for physical and social sciences, also for improving education for occupational training, planning and problem solving in different areas such as government, industry is part of serious gaming concept firstly introduced already in 70’s. Serious gaming can be defined by application of three components: experience, entertainment and multimedia. The Bradley Trainer, which teaches new US army recruits how to operate the Bradley battle vehicle, is an example of how serious gaming has been incorporated into the military already in 1981 . It was also considered as the first VR game. Some of the key advantages of serious gaming include its advanced flexibility – allowing students to take part in various local and open-world scenarios either alone or in teams while still physically present in the classroom. Serious gaming is used for different purposes aiming at satisfying ever growing requirements for the training as a separate or complementary educational curriculum. The industry of serious gaming is growing exponentially - almost 100% each year . However, researchers have also noted the necessity for more natural interfaces between the gaming world and the user, such as the usage of augmented reality (AR) possibilities.

As mentioned, virtual reality is an important tool to educate different security personnel. Virtual reality offers unended possibilities to create educative situations. With VR glasses authorities can practice for scenarios like difficult hostage taking situations, cyber-attacks or shooting situations. In terms of organized crime and terrorism, training for possible violent situations could be important. You can prepare yourself with VR for very rare situations too, it is cost effective, safe and easy compared to practicing in real life with real arms for instance. Augmented reality, used by special AR glasses, a phone or an iPad, offers many issues, such as enabling an expert to see a crime scene remotely and giving tips to the investigator working on that crime scene . E.g., therefore, we can say that AR can provide tools to operative and strategic planning as well.

Another training scenario relates to protecting critical infrastructure, such as dealing with crowds during a mass demonstration near an airport . According to that scenario, the main scope is to improve the skills of command-and-control personnel at a tactical and strategic level. This example scenario is planned to defend an airport full of demonstrators acting against immigration and harming the main infrastructure. Also, securing critical infrastructure is an emerging need related to individuals or nation-state actors attacking different countries . These cyberattacks have also been considered by NATO because these attacks can also disrupt critical infrastructure and it is highly difficult to prove the actors behind these attacks . An unknown attacker may be a state-based actor or a privately / state owned mafia.

As we know, gun violence is a typical activity by organized crime and it can be used for various situations. For instance, criminal groups use it for threaten people or fight for power. A gunman, or just a suspected gunman, normally means a huge police operation in a certain area. The number of these operations goes hand in hand with the growth of organized crime, area by area. Also, even if there are no strongly controlled areas by criminals yet, we can see a differentiation development of areas already. This is because people tend to know areas with more drugs for instance . We should see these areas through the understanding of how transnational organized crime control areas elsewhere. Or start controlling. Surely it happens through various methods and tainted areas may be pretty easy to take under control by serious criminals.

 Because the areas and circumstances vary, police should be prepared well and all extra knowledge about the area relates to the operational planning. This could be much easier with the AR technology; the officers could get much more information, such as information on previous crimes on a neighborhood or a plan of a public infrastructure, immediately. There is a strong wish that the officers could see the plans of houses through the AR technology but unfortunately this is still a remaining hope. Also, connecting AR to identification technology, like biometrics, is a highly desired tool. This would put more weight on tactical planning. If the AR could be connected for instance to the body cameras, worn by police officers, suspects could be identified more easily. So, with that, police officers could find a suspect or a wanted person from masses on streets. However, using the photos of a passport register is legal for investigating only serious types of crimes in Finland. Furthermore, this way of using biometrics, such as face recognition, could threaten the privacy policies. However, the rights to use the information, collected for passport- or ID -registers, for various serious crime investigations have been discussed lately .

How about criminals and terrorists? What if they will use the AR and VR tools before law enforcement agencies? There are worries, such as that criminals could use VR for their own training and AR for seeing hidden weapons used by law enforcement . There is already a discussion of the future threats and possibilities. Provided that a criminal network would use VR tools for their training, it means that they will be better prepared for various situations, such as terrorist attacks or shooting situations. The attitudes among transnational organized crime groups (TOCGs) to train new members to shoot for instant, vary between organizations. Not always their new members get a complete education on the criminal acts. Therefore, some say, that the best practice happens through real situations. In terms of training with arms, criminals normally start with smaller guns followed by bigger ones. However, when being aware of the possibilities provided by VR, training more seriously would rise criminals’ reliability among other criminal networks and commit more serious crimes.

Sure, we can ask if this is real. Are some serious criminal networks really going to use virtual and augmented reality to commit crimes? Normally criminals are very early adopters of technological tools. If law enforcement authorities do not take it seriously and adopt these tools fast, transnational organized crime, especially state based criminal actors, will definitely do it. Also, policy makers have to see the threat! If not addressed properly, this would mean that the battle gets much harder in terms of law enforcement, and that the phenomenon of TOC totally leads the game.  

University of Oulu and Kaunas University of Technology share a project to plan education to various law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to adopt new technological tools to combat organized crime and terrorism. As VR and AR represent only a small part of the new technological tools to battle the criminal phenomena, the project also considers various other technological tools. All of the writers worked on this project during the spring 2022 and the work continues.

Siru Törnroos, Paulius Klikunas and Panos Kostakos
University of Oulu and Kaunas University of Technology


For more information:
Paulius Klikunas, Deputy Head of Fr0g lab, Kaunas University of Technology,
[email protected]
Panos Kostakos, Head of the Cyber Security Informatics (CSI) group, Center for Ubiquitous
Computing, ITEE, University of Oulu, [email protected]

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