Web technology helps trace kids

The FBI, the Customs Service and the U.S. Postal Service are linked through new World Wide Web-based technologies to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which last week opened a new headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

NCMEC, created after Congress passed the Missing Children's Act of 1984, named the facility in honor of Charles Wang, chairman and chief executive officer of Computer Associates International Inc. and the center's top benefactor.

Wang contributed $5 million in funding and technology, including Unicenter TNG to manage the center's servers, desktops and mission-critical applications. Wang also contributed Ingres II databases and Jasmine II intelligent hosting services to help the center fulfill its data needs and to facilitate information sharing between the center and the FBI, Customs and USPS.

"The center provides state-of-the-art assistance to law enforcement," Wang said as the renovated building, formerly a hotel, was christened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It gives renewed hope for all parents of missing and exploited children."

FBI Director Louis Freeh and retired Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of America's Promise, also spoke at the ceremony.

Since it was founded, NCMEC has worked with law enforcement agencies on 66,350 missing-child cases, resulting in the recovery of 47,284 children. Technology has helped improve the percentage of cases solved from 62 percent in 1990 to 93 percent today, said Ernie Allen, president of NCMEC. About 5,000 children are in the centers active missing children case file.

Through its Web site (www.missingkids.com), the center collects reports of missing children or suspected cybercrime. The center filters the reports before making them accessible to federal law enforcement services, said Rick Minicucci, chief technology officer of NCMEC.

The federal agencies have access to the database of reports through the Web over a secure link, Minicucci said. Federal agents also can communicate with each other privately and securely through the site to assign a case or determine its status, Minicucci said.

The site includes a feature called Cyber Tipline, which lets people report a missing child by filling out a form and submitting it electronically. Cyber Tipline has collected 11,000 reports since it went live in March 1998, Minicucci said.

"We can't take any action, but we know how to get information to law enforcement," he said.

In addition to Web access, the FBI and Customs each have an agent working at the center responsible for coordinating the handoff of NCMEC information to the correct units within their agencies.

The FBI agent at the center, for example, has access to the FBI's database through a secure connection and can add the tip line information to an ongoing case, Minicucci said. The agent can also look up information in FBI computers, which center officials cannot access.

The center, which is nonprofit and receives about half of its funding from the federal government, also has accepted large donations of computer equipment from high-technology companies. Minicucci said these include Sun Microsystems Inc., which donated five Microsoft Corp. Windows NT servers; Compaq Computer Corp., which donated 60 Intel Corp. Pentium III desktop computers; and Tektronix Inc., which donated color printers.

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