Data warehouses, digital repositories of criminal and investigative records, are "creating the foundation of a domestic intelligence system," reports The Washington Post.
At the federal level, officials hope the Justice Department's National Data Exchange (N-DEx) will provide federal, state, and local investigators the ability to scour the voluminous amounts of state and local records to aid in the fight against crime and terrorism.
The Post reports:
Federal authorities have high hopes for the N-DEx system, which is to begin phasing in as early as this month. They envision a time when N-DEx, developed by Raytheon for $85 million, will enable 200,000 state and local investigators, as well as federal counterterrorism investigators, to search across millions of police reports, in some 15,000 state and local agencies, with a few clicks of a computer mouse. Those reports will include names of suspects, associates, victims, persons of interest, witnesses and any other person named in an incident, arrest, booking, parole or probation report.
The system will be accessible to federal law-enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, and state fusion centers. Intelligence analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center and FBI's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Center likely will have access to the system as well.
The FBI states their vision for the N-DEx is to:
Create an electronic catalog of criminal information from around the country, give it some powerful search and analytical tools, push relevant information to users through subscription alerts, and enable new levels of communication and collaboration between those with similar interests.
The FBI's Web page also lays out "fictitious but realistic scenarios" of how the N-DEx system will work. (Here's one detailed example of how the system works.)
Over 1,150 police jurisdictions use a commercial variation similar to the N-DEx system, known as Coplink. The system has dramatically cut the time required for information searches, from weeks or months to seconds. Searching with only bits of information such as nicknames, tattoos, and physical traits, investigators can quickly identify suspects and follow leads.
More than 400 police forces use another information-sharing system known as the Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or LInX, built by Northrop Grumman for the Navy Criminal Investigative Service. Users say the system is more powerful than Coplink as LInX feeds information from law enforcement to counterterrorism and intelligence agencies.
The technological strides of these systems, however, present nagging questions regarding privacy and civil liberties. Timothy Sample, head of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, an organization that represents the private intelligence industry, says the law has not caught up with the technology and this gap presents risks.
Head of the federal Information Sharing Environment, Thomas McNamara, told the Post:
"Part of the challenge is to leverage these cutting-edge tools so we can securely and appropriately share that information which supports efforts to protect our communities from future terrorist attacks," McNamara said. "Equally important is that we do so in a manner that fully protects the information privacy and legal rights of all Americans."
The federal government could require that regional systems adopt federal rules governing use of the information, McNamara says. This would not only help protect privacy, it might also allay security concerns that could prevent some state and local law enforcement agencies from sharing critical information.
To read how Washington State's fusion center uses Coplink and other data analysis software programs to police intelligently, see Joseph Straw's "Smashing Intelligence Stovepipes" in this month's issue.