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Justified & Proportionate Surveillance: The Creation of NetWatch Global®


By Tim Young CEO of The Surveillance Group & David Purcell COO of NetWatch Global

In 2011 the use of surveillance to counter personal injury claims came under intense scrutiny following adverse media coverage on two high profile cases. The Leveson inquiry followed this shortly after which was a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal. Chaired by Lord Justice Leveson; a series of public hearings were held throughout 2011 and 2012 culminating in the publication of the Leveson Report in November 2012. As a result of this report the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) put in place new controls that required insurers, self-insured and TPA providers to prove that their use of surveillance was both “justified and proportionate”. At this point in time The Surveillance Group (TSG) had just acquired a financial interest in a software company who specialised in the creation of geo-fencing technology for many of Europe’s Airports and within the agricultural industry. Our investment was driven by the belief that matching geo-fencing with social network information would provide information to identify complex criminal supply chains / relationships as well as providing timely information relative to the initial management and subsequent handling of insurance claims.

Initially TSG was asked by clients in the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries to develop software that would enable them to investigate the global use of Social Networks by Serious Organised Crime to market and distribute illicit products and for the information to be passed onto law enforcement entities. Because of this request NetWatch Global Ltd was founded as vehicle to provide front end intelligence that utilised the innovative software that we had created.

The creation of a separate company was also necessary since to comply with the development agreements (API’s) with the Social Networks and data streaming companies it was necessary for us to operate under a highly specific Data Protection policy. The subsequent evolution of the software and managed service we have created has been lead every step of the way by sound legal advice to ensure that our output is admissible in both civil and criminal courts and does not breach any of the relevant Acts that pertain to its use. It is important to note that our intelligence only relies on ‘open’ Social Network platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. We do not rely on Facebook or Snap Chat networks that are intended for users to share information amongst private groups unless an individual’s Facebook profile is ‘fully public’. We are also mindful that what we do has to bear scrutiny relative to its ethical use and to that end we have worked with the Judiciary to create a specialised ‘Evidence Pack’ that presents our findings in an easy to understand and fully admissible format.

Following lengthy pilots by Insurers, self-insured entities and the medico-legal profession, the use of NetWatch has now been fully embraced as the most cost effective and innovative intelligence tool in the personal injury market. Our reports provide irrefutable evidence and justification that a personal injury claim is exaggerated or in some way fraudulent and that subsequent surveillance is proportionate and justified. Furthermore, it is worth noting that in around 35% of cases our reports prove that surveillance is not justified therefore allowing our clients to prove that they have taken a balanced view relative to their handling of a claim and the investigative resources at their disposal. Ultimately NetWatch allows sound commercial decisions to be made that fundamentally affect the way a claim is handled. It also allows genuine claimants to receive rapid rehabilitation and settlement without being subjected to the intense scrutiny often associated with physical surveillance.

Not only have we seen a trend for clients to require a blend of initial intelligence with more traditional manned surveillance options but most recently our NetWatch software and services have had to evolve to embrace a growing awareness within the general public and criminal fraternity of how their social media posts can be used against them. This increased awareness has driven users into using temporary social media platforms where they feel safe in the knowledge that after 24hrs their posts will be deleted. Our response has been to create a new Temporary Intelligence Capture (TIC) service which allows us to capture this incredibly valuable source of information. To our knowledge NetWatch are the first private entity to have developed this capability, which is already paying dividends in the fraud space.

Temporary Social Media; Changing the Landscape of Surveillance.

In a world in which technology becomes obsolete in the blink of an eye and social media seems to evolve at lightning speed, nothing ever seems to change too much. New innovations and features are drip fed by the big players and become second nature without us realising.

So how do the social media networks ensure that the privacy savvy, image conscious younger generations continue to share, engage and ultimately entertain? The answer it temporary media. This is self-erasing content such as phots, videos and the like.

Even if you are not aware, or even have a vague understanding of, social media posts that disappear after just a short time the good news is that at NetWatch we do. Let us take a moment to reflect on what we’re referring to as ‘Temporary Intelligence’ or (TEMPINT), what it means for investigators, and how NetWatch are now leveraging this through our latest tools to obtain first class intelligence for our clients.

Temporary Intelligence first emerged back in 2012 through the launch of Snapchat. During the two years after launch Snapchat gradually became a household name, with heavy financing through three funding rounds worth around $143.5 million[1]. Figures on the userbase during this period are difficult to obtain, but Snapchat estimated that by November 2013 users were sharing more images through Snapchat than Facebook, at around 400 million a day. That’s a lot of pictures!

The premise of Snapchat was (and is) that you could send images to friends that would only be viewable for around 6 seconds after being accessed – and then they were gone. Hence, they were only temporary in nature. This lead Snapchat to be synonymous with sexting, and the inevitable sharing of risqué images – and is potentially what kept it out of complete proliferation of users to the extent of Facebook.

At this point Snapchat was not of particular interest or use to open source investigation professionals because it was primarily a messaging service. Trying to access these snaps would be akin to breaking into someone’s text messages – not very open source and fraught with regulations like the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

In 2013 Snapchat added ‘stories’ to the product and this changed things, especially towards the tail end of 2016 when the feature was mirrored by Instagram, and then by Facebook in 2017.

Stories effectively acts as a means for users to operate their own broadcast station, uploading short videos or images throughout the day (and night) to let people know what they’re doing – adorning them with commentary, location tags, or amusing stickers, and driven largely by celebrity culture. Crucially the posts are temporary and disappear after 24 hours – across all platforms.

Again, figures on userbase are difficult to pin down, but Instagram in particular has certainly catapulted this social media feature into the mainstream boasting nearly 100 million more daily active users than Snapchat in August 2017 and growing rapidly.

This growth represents a potential problem for open source investigators and companies relying on social media intelligence reports – with the implication being that if more and more users move to posting on temporary platforms, there will be less information available on standard profiles.

At NetWatch rather than being worried about the rise of temporary posts, we’re excited about the prospect of leveraging these features and generating temporary intelligence reports – and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for our existing clients.

Our initial research gives us every reason to be excited as well, with the intelligence gained from temporary posts being some of the most insightful we’ve ever encountered and users posting up to 20 times more frequently to stories than they do to their main profiles.

If you would like to discuss your requirements or a particular challenge with us then visit us on stand 25 at the I Love Claims Motor Conference.

Alternatively please contact Tristan Prince, Group Chief Commercial Officer at tprince@thesurveillancegroup.com or call us directly on 0800 5870175

[1] They’ve since raised at least another $2.9 billion!