Law Enforcement

Why law enforcement agencies need to share data

data abstract

From financial fraud to child pornography, crime-fighting agencies increasingly rely on other organizations' data to get the job done.

"The single hacker can do things that were never thought of years ago," said Bruce Welsh, unit chief in the FBI's Cyber Division.

In a "growing and unsecure" cyber ecosystem, agencies need to share data quickly and effectively with partner organizations, he said at IBM's Government Analytics Forum on May 5.

Jamie Holt, cybercrime unit chief at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, said outside tools proved crucial in Project VIC, an ambitious initiative to tackle child pornography.

After seizing 6 petabytes of data in 2015 -- the equivalent of 77 years of high-definition video -- Holt's 6,000 agents faced the daunting challenge of combing through all that evidence. HSI ameliorated the backlog with a tool that could pull out previously identified images, thereby cutting a nine-month review backlog down to one month and reducing the number of times agents had to view graphic images of abuse, Holt said.

Even with a better internal data-wrangling scheme, HSI still needs international help because abusers are often in one country, victims in another and servers storing child pornography in a third, Holt added.

Broad cooperation is also crucial for dealing with financial crimes. Kenn Kern, chief of staff of the Investigation Division at the New York County District Attorney's Office, said his office doesn't have immediate access to every American's personal data as some people suspect.

He said he can't access federal data without court orders, and he wouldn't want to.

"I don't want everyone's data," he said. "It's too much to deal with."

But when he does need to get data from federal agencies or another law enforcement outfit, that data must be ready to use.

Vijay D'Souza, director of the Government Accountability Office's Center for Enhanced Analytics, said fraudsters aren't always linked to all their crimes because one jurisdiction uses their full name in records while another relies on initials. Establishing information-sharing agreements among agencies to reduce lag times and standardize data formats is a must, he added.

Linking criminals to their activities is especially tricky internationally, but Kern said it is crucial. Trying to fight financial crime without quick, effective data transfers between London and New York is a fool's errand, he added.

For Holt, integration is the name of the game -- between organizations and tools alike.

"It takes a lot of time for a human to process all that information within each individual tool," Holt said, adding that many vendors' tools don't connect well with others.

Interoperable tools and data are the key to giving law enforcement a clear picture of threats and crimes in an ever-swelling mountain of data, Holt added.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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