FBI tech upgrades roll on

Computers at the FBI's headquarters in Washington, D.C., are now being upgraded to state-of-the-art machines, and additional software upgrades are expected this fall, FBI Director Robert Mueller told lawmakers today.

As part of the Trilogy modernization project, computers in all field locations and all servers have already been upgraded, Mueller told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The upgrades, he said, are for Virtual Case File, an Internet-based system for case information that the bureau expects to start using in December. The program would combine several databases and replace paper-based case files with digital versions, giving agents improved access to information and an advanced search capability.

However, some analysts have said the completed project will present FBI officials with more complex software and security issues. One analyst said the FBI would likely see a backlash from privacy groups concerned about sharing case information in a massive database.

Officials expect to install the final version of the system in June 2004.

The Virtual Case File system accounts for about $40 million of the modernization effort's overall $458 million price tag. The concept replaces an effort called Automated Case Support, which was scrapped last year.

Mueller touted the bureau's information technology advances of the past two years. The Trilogy network was finished in March, increasing the amount of shared information for FBI offices. Thanks to the installation of relatively advanced equipment, the network can be managed from one location, the new Enterprise Operations Center, Mueller said, adding that he expects Trilogy to last for several years as the foundation of the bureau's technology systems.

The USA Patriot Act expanded the FBI's ability to share data with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It also expanded the use of information obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), by allowing the data to be used for criminal prosecution as well as foreign-intelligence gathering.

"We now have more opportunities to employ FISA and greater dissemination of the information that flows from FISA surveillance," Mueller said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) commended the department's technology efforts, saying Mueller inherited a bureau with "antiquated" technology and "inadequate" systems.

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