New technology means new problems

For the criminal justice community, new technology is never a simple solution.

In some cases, it's a case of learning how to take full advantage of

an emerging field, such as Extensible Markup Language or biometrics. In

other cases, it's a matter of waiting for the technology to mature, such

as voice recognition software.

At the very least, new technology requires government agencies to think

about the ways they do business, said law enforcement officials and technology

vendors attending the 2002 SEARCH Integrated Justice Information Systems

Symposium in Washington, D.C.

"Technology in [and] of itself is not a solution to your problems,"

said Matthew D'Alessandro, a product manager at Motorola Inc.'s Integrated

Solutions Division. "You need to be able to blend technology with business

process engineering."

Gordon Wasserman, an independent consultant specializing in management

of police agencies, said that police chiefs are also taking responsibility

for reducing crime and are willing to be judged on how they do that. They

are also much more knowledgeable about how technology can be used as a tool

to combat crime.

"It used to be something they had to put up with," he said.

Some technology clearly could have a dramatic impact, though not necessarily

at the pace that might be expected or hoped.

XML is a case in point. Jeff Langford, a technology specialist with

Microsoft Corp.'s state and local government division, said he believed

that XML, which allows agencies to tag information so it's easier to exchange

between systems, would be an important technology for information sharing,

but that any large-scale change will take five or more years. In the meantime,

Langford said, agencies can rely on middleware, which is software designed

to manage exchanges between applications.

Other technology is difficult to grasp because it is changing so fast.

Handheld technology for mobile applications, said Michael Stein with

Gartner Consulting, is changing at the same "bewildering pace as PCs did

at one point." He said Gartner is predicting that more than 50 percent of

mobile applications deployed at the start of 2002 will be obsolete at the

end of 2002.

Use of biometrics, which uses unique physiological, biological and behavioral

characteristics to identify individuals, is just beginning, several experts

said. While the technology is promising — electronic fingerprinting is

already used widely — it may not live up to the hype that surrounds it.

Biometrics is being "positioned as a panacea," which can cause greater

harm, said Samir Nanavati, a founding partner with International Biometric

Group, a consulting and integration firm. The different biometrics available

may be appropriate for some uses and not for others and products must be

looked at for their quality and effectiveness, he said.

After Sept. 11, many airports and government agencies have employed

or are considering facial recognition technology or iris or retinal scanning,

among other technologies, as a verification tool.

"We view it has nothing more than another tool in a tool bag to solve

investigations," said Lt. Jim Main with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

in Florida, where a facial recognition system is being developed.

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