ALERT! Next week we're starting "The 26 Days of Security Forces", an action-packed #OSINT extravaganza like the 12 days of Christmas. But longer, probably less fun and with fewer calories and gifts. Okay, so not much like Christmas. But with more spreadsheets. Why?
— Security Force Monitor (@SecForceMonitor) April 16, 2020
It’s Monday 20 April 2020, and it’s the first day of the “Twenty-Six Days of Security Forces”. Our aim is to create a big list of all the official websites and social media accounts of police, military and other security forces around the world and share it publicly for anyone to use.
In the remainder of the post I’ll describe what we’re trying to achieve, the way we think we can get it done, and how you can help out.
Why are you doing this?
One of the first steps that we take when researching a country’s security forces is to find their official digital communications channels. The digital space, and how forces display themselves, can be as critical as community outreach, radio, television and other channels for communicating with citizens about public safety and how to access the force’s services. It can also contain information about operations, overall force governance, organizational structure, physical facilities (like stations, posts, barracks and camps), standing orders and key command personnel. Both sorts of information inform the work of journalists, human rights researchers and others seeking to hold the force to account when allegations of corruption, misconduct and abuse surface.
Our experience so far is that forces of all types make at least some effort to place information about themselves online, but there are huge variations in the topics they cover and the comprehensiveness of information they provide, how regularly the information is updated, and how reliable these online services are.
There can also be big changes over time as forces update their websites; sometimes they may make cosmetic and structural changes that leave the site content mostly the same. Other times, they may remove content that is important to understanding that force at a particular time. We have also experienced challenges with the basic accessibility of sites: sites that are offline, don’t load in modern browsers, that restrict who can look at the site and from where, and that take technical measures to prohibit archiving. This last challenge is of particular concern to us, as historical information on forces can be exceptionally valuable to anyone seeking to hold them to account.
Forces’ use of social media can also be intense and coherent, but also haphazard and unreliable, perhaps carried out on personal rather than institutional groups and accounts. They can also be difficult to document and archive because of the technical choices and terms of services of the various platforms forces have chosen to use.
I think it can be a challenge for anyone – let alone researchers like us – to access and gather accurate and up-to-date information from these mixes of channels. To monitor and analyse the information coming out forces, we should at least have a straightforward list of those channels. We can then test whether they can be accessed globally, whether archive tools work on them, whether they are subject to freedom of information or transparency laws, and so on. It’s all rather useful, so why not try to build a list for every country? Through this project we intend to build such a list.
How are you going to do this?
I have quite a simple game plan to develop this list:
- Publish a Google Sheet with a simple structure in it.
- Put in a bit of time myself each day and work through countries in alphabetical order (a letter a day).
- Invite friends and networks to help out a bit (subject to a Code of Conduct, perhaps like the Contributor Code of Conduct?)
- Create a hashtag for it that passes the Urban Dictionary test (“#26DSF” ?)
- Build comprehensive list of official security force communications channels.
- Check and verify each entry.
- Release dataset under an open license (like Creative Commons BY 4.0, which we use for our other datasets) so everyone can use it.
- Done! Cake for everyone.
What could go wrong? Quite a lot of things. As we’re just at the start I hope for the best of the Internet but expect to learn some lessons as we go along. For now, I’ll keep the spreadsheet open to all, and we’ll see how we get on.
Show me how to contribute!
So, without further ado, head to our Google sheet:
Here are the rules:
- Pick a country and look for a force type (police, gendarmerie, carabinieri, border force, army, navy, intelligence) that hasn’t been done yet.
- Start with the national political institution responsible for the security force, such as the Ministry of Defence, or Ministry of Interior and work downwards from there.
- Search the Internet with the ferocity of something very ferocious.
- Add a row and try to fill in the columns for official websites, social media accounts and so on.
- If you think something needs changing in a row you didn’t create, leave a comment.
- Ping us publicly or through direct messages on Twitter (@secforcemonitor), or email me (tom [at] securityforcemonitor.org) if you have questions.
Today, the sheet only has countries beginning with “A” on it. I’ll add more countries as we make progress.
Thanks for reading, and I hope I’ve persuaded you to help out.
(Updated 2020-02-22 13:44: Fixed link to the Google Sheet, which was broken)