Law enforcement net goes IP

The National Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (NLETS), a highly secure system that shares private information among public safety and justice agencies, has upgraded to an IP-based network, making it possible to encrypt the 41 million-plus transmissions the network carries each month.

Established 38 years ago as a nonprofit organization and jointly owned by the 50 states, NLETS has been making improvements in recent years to keep current with technological advances. About 30,000 agencies in the United States and Canada use the system.

“It’s the center square for justice information sharing,” Steven Correll, NLETS executive director, said. “If we’re not ahead of the curve, information sharing slows down or stops.”

Law enforcement and public safety officials can query databases for vehicle data and motorist histories, criminal records, citizenship and immigration information, and aircraft tracking and registration data, among other types of information.

NLETS administrators decided to upgrade the network from a frame relay infrastructure to an IP-based one after the FBI mandated that all public safety agencies must provide end-to-end encryption by today. Cisco Systems routers, switches and firewalls were deployed at the organization’s Phoenix headquarters and at a backup facility in Idaho. The company also deployed an intrusion-prevention system.

“Even if an intruder were able to intercept a message sent across NLETS, the message could not be read or altered,” said Morgan Wright, Cisco’s global industry solution manager for justice and public safety.

“Plus, this enhanced level of security comes at no cost to network performance,” he said. “With all the advanced capabilities and scalability of an IP-based network, NLETS continues to provide the same fast message transmission, in one second or less, as the less robust, less capable network that it replaced.”

Correll said the Cisco part is a portion of the total upgrade. NLETS has been making other upgrades and adding more functions so users can get quickly and easily get data.

For example, it had already transitioned all transactions to the Global Justice Extensible Markup Language Data Model (JXDM) format, which is a national standard specifically designed for criminal justice agencies to exchange information effectively and in a timely manner.

It still supports proprietary data formats because a number of states still use them, but NLETS does not offer any new services. So the organization performs hundreds of thousands of bidirectional transactions per day, meaning it transforms legacy-supported data into XML data and back again to legacy-supported data.

To get states to adopt the XML format, tell them they would get certain information, such as mug shots or booking sheets, that they currently cannot obtain, he added.

“If you want these images -- hazardous-material information and passenger car schematics -- you have to move to this next level of XML to get that,” he said. He added that many stakeholders have endorsed Global JXDM.

Correll said the organization also wants to develop a search capability similar to Google, in which users seeking information about a specific individual can type in that person’s name and get back the person’s criminal history, motor vehicle information and other data. Right now, users have to go to each state database through the network to get that data, he said.

Globally, he said NLETS has connectivity into Mexico for commercial driver’s license information, but technical differences preclude any immediate solution for connecting to other databases. NLETS is also working with Interpol, an international police organization, to connect to a database of wanted individuals possibly by the end of the year, Correll added.

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