N-Dex: Strong growth potential in info-sharing

About 25 percent of the nation’s electronic criminal incident reports are now included in the FBI’s National Data Exchange (N-Dex) law enforcement information-sharing system. And, in the next year, the system’s  technical manager expects to see that amount double.

“The first step is getting the data into the system,” said David Erickson, technical manager for N-Dex for prime contractor Raytheon.

From 13 entities that now submit data — including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the county and city of Los Angeles and the states of Delaware, Nebraska and Texas — Erickson anticipates an inflow of twice
as much data in a year. The data streams are large: Los Angeles’ database includes 15 million reports.

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service is developing the system to enable better sharing, searching and linking of sensitive but unclassified information contained in incident reports, arrest records, prison records and parole records and other records.

The system is being developed with input from the International Association of Police Chiefs, Erickson said. Raytheon won the four-year contract in February 2007 and delivered the first increment in March 2008.

N-Dex connects people and property information through telephone numbers, Erickson said. For example, it can chart the phone numbers called by inmates of federal prisons and look for links among the people involved in the calls.

“It connects dots like a law enforcement investigator,” Erickson said. The system has advanced search capabilities, but does not perform data mining and does not predict behavior, he added. The FBI terminated another Justice-funded system with advanced search capabilities, the Multi-State Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, in 2005 after controversy about its its perceived risks to privacy.

To protect privacy in N-Dex, each entity that submits data retains ownership of the data and can determine which information may be shared, Erickson said. For example, some entities do not share reports on sexual assaults that contain the names of crime victims and witnesses.

In addition, the system has three levels of access.  Only the senior investigators will have access to the most sensitive information, he said.

In the next increment, N-Dex will add geospatial features that will allow investigators to visualize, geographically, the links between the people and property listed in the reports. An investigator may look at locations, times and witness descriptions of reported robberies in a city to learn if there is a pattern.

Currently, the system has a capacity of 50,000 users, although information was not immediately available on how many people are using it.

“We are seeing a lot of enthusiasm for it,” Erickson said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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