Law Enforcement

DOJ recording policy raises tech questions

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The Justice Department has done an about-face on its policy not to electronically record interrogation statements of suspects, but DOJ remains short on details of how it will technically support the change.

Beginning in July, according to a May 21 Justice Department statement, a new policy establishes the presumption that the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and U.S. Marshals Service will electronically record interviews of individuals in their custody at the place of detention. The custodial interviews would be recorded after suspects are arrested and before their first appearance in court, according to the department.

The policy change was spelled out earlier in May in an internal memo by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. The Justice Department issued the May 21 statement after Cole's memo was leaked to the press.

The shift changes the agency's almost 100-year-old policy not to record such statements and brings the DOJ agencies in line with a number of state and local law enforcement entities that have been using video recording of suspect statements for some time. The FBI typically uses two agents during suspect interviews, with one asking questions and the other taking notes. The interview is usually typed up in a report for the official record. The agency has used video recorded statements in a few high-profile cases.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in the May 22 statement that the electronic recordings will "ensure that we have an objective account of key investigations and interactions with people who are held in federal custody," He added they will also provide federal law enforcement officials with "a backstop" of clear and indisputable records.

Left unsaid is what the policy shift means for the agency's IT department. The DoJ's statement does not go into any detail on the production or storage of the video and audio recordings, or whether agencies would have to install new recording systems at federal facilities.

The department did not respond to FCW inquiries about how the policy shift would affect its IT department and operations.

Some of the Justice Department's agencies have been moving to implement new cases management systems that can better accommodate data-heavy electronic files.

ATF is in the process of establishing a next-generation case management system that would accommodate video and audio recordings of witness and suspect interviews. The agency issued an RFI in April seeking a unified tool to give its investigators and attorneys access to case files and support the updated business management system. The agency said it wants the system to work across mobile phones and tablets, and support data from the retired system.

The FBI began deploying its long-awaited Sentinel case management system in 2012 after numerous delays, allowing agents and support personnel to share information more rapidly.

The DoJ's statement indicates the policy change might require significant IT support, especially if the agencies affected must store the recordings centrally. It says video recording equipment is preferable, but audio equipment can also be used if video capabilities are not available.

"The policy applies to all places of detention where persons are held in connection with federal criminal charges and can be interviewed. Importantly, any electronic recording equipment used for these purposes must capture the entirety of the interview," the statement said.

As the policy was announced, the department was set to get a new CIO, Joseph Klimavicz. When it named Klimavicz to the position in April, DOJ said he would start in late May.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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