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According to one recent report:

"Disruption is emerging as an important tactical policing option for inhibiting the often subcriminal activities of extremists. However, to date the processes of how to design and implement effective disruptive interventions appear to have been relatively neglected. An established tactical menu of options for conducting disruptions has yet to be distilled from practice." (Prevent Policing, UPSI 2011)

The tactic of disrupting criminal networks, instead of seeking to build full prosecutions, has some ethical advantages. It typically involves less coercion, less risk, less infringement of rights, and requires fewer resources. Central questions for further research include:

  • What different forms of disruption are appropriate to serious and organised crime and terrorism?
  • How do agencies decide between disruption and e.g. further surveillance?
  • Is disruption sometimes preferable on cost grounds to further investigation?
  • Is disruption more harmless ethically than surveillance and other preventive measures?
  • How is the effectiveness of disruption to be measured?


‘Policing and Punishment: On Informant Recruitment and Auxiliary Offences’ (Christopher Nathan)

The police force faces a complex of options in deciding how to deploy its legal powers. Both as an institution and as a set of individuals, it (rightly) possesses significant discretion in determining who will be prosecuted, and for what. I will focus on two areas that emphasise the range of choices available: (i) the recruitment of informants by way of a threat to prosecute, and (ii) the entrepreneurial use of legal powers in order to disrupt criminals. Such strategies, I argue here, exhibit properties that render them susceptible to the same high normative standards that we apply to cases of punishment. Those standards include: (a) the serious wrong of misapplication, and (b) the value of consistency. The implications of this claim may be radical; I conclude by giving reason to think that they are not.

‘What is Wrong with Fishing Expeditions?’ (Christopher Nathan)

The paradigm of regulation of personal data involves focus on the consent surrounding each item of information. This framework is insufficiently alive to possible and actual technological developments involving data fusion and long-term storage. Instead of regulating the use of individual items of data we should focus on the functions and goals of analysis. I examine two established concepts that might fulfil this task: ‘probable cause’ and ‘due process’.