Text-only version from February digital edition. How Interpol helps to solve crimes ranging from cyberattacks to child exploitation and how the private sector gets involved.
Several years ago, when Norwegian law enforcement authorities arrested a suspect in a crime they were investigating, they found in his possession pictures of another unidentified man shown molesting young boys in Southeast Asia. They learned that the man pictured had anonymously posted hundreds of such photos of himself online. Norwegian police reached out to the International Criminal Police Organization, popularly known as Interpol , for help in tracking down this suspected pedophile across international borders.
Interpol sent what it calls a blue notice (see sidebar) to its member countries and their media outlets. The notice generated substantive leads, including one providing the suspect’s name, which allowed police to find where he lived in the United States. Within 48 hours of the tip that led to his identification, authorities were able to apprehend him.
That’s just one example of how Interpol, formed in 1923, works with countries around the world to enforce the law. Headquartered in Lyon, France, the organization currently has 190 member countries. It works with law enforcement in each country, but Interpol cannot do its job without input and assistance from the private sector.
The major domains where Interpol is pursuing private-sector international partnerships are cybercrime, biometrics and forensics, and illicit trade, such as pharmaceuticals, says Julia Viedma, Interpol’s director for international partnership. However, Interpol has private partners in many other areas, like human trafficking. And when necessary, Interpol will also work with companies on a one-time basis for a specific case or project.
“When we talk about cooperation with the private sector, we are talking about two main things,” says Viedma. The first is assistance in the research and development of new tools to help law enforcement face new challenges brought about by technology, such as the Internet and smart cards; the second is capacity building, such as training and sharing expertise.
High-tech crimes. Interpol made headlines early in 2012 with a mass arrest of individuals involved in the cybercrime group Anonymous.
Technology companies can help Interpol not just in fighting cyberattacks but also in tackling other computer and Internet-related crimes . “Since 2005, Interpol and Microsoft Corporation have been working closely together to provide training to police officers worldwide against high-tech crimes, computer-facilitated crimes against children , and violations of Intellectual Property Rights,” explained Interpol in a press release.
The agency notes that Microsoft has supported Interpol’s development of the International Child Sexual Exploitation Image (ICSE) Database. “Specialized crime investigators and computer forensic teams use software provided by Microsoft to share and exchange materials in the investigation of child sexual abuse cases (GROOVE Software) and in the extraction of forensic evidence from suspects’ computers (COFEE Software),” explained the release.
Intellectual property. Intellectual property crime, including counterfeiting of products and trafficking in fake goods, often crosses borders, which brings it into Interpol’s domain, and because the stolen intellectual property typically belongs to private companies, public-private cooperation is particularly useful in this type of crime.
Interpol Washington Director Timothy A. Williams says that the agency works hand in hand with the private sector to solve these crimes. “They, a lot of times, have the access to information on their fake goods or counterfeit goods coming through, and they will advise Interpol,” he says. The companies will also provide experts who can advise Interpol on the counterfeit items.
Forensics. The company Forensic Technology , headquartered in Montreal, Canada, approached Interpol a few years ago about using its server to facilitate a new network that would become the Interpol Ballistic Information Network, known as IBIN. “Countries that sign up for IBIN have their data copied there each night, whatever new acquisitions they’ve done, new photographs they’ve taken. That firearm data is sent to Interpol in its sanitized format, and then any country that’s within IBIN is able to launch a correlation against another country’s IBIN data,” says Andrew Boyle, international forensic fire and solutions manager at Forensic Technology. Boyle says there have already been reports of success; since Spain and Portugal started sharing the information on the server, there have been three crimes linked by ballistics.
There are only nine member countries currently participating in the Interpol ballistic-forensics database effort but the company hopes that more join. “The more data gets in it, the more power it’s going to have,” says Boyle.
Child exploitation. Human trafficking and child exploitation are other issues on which Interpol receives assistance from the private sector. In a recent operation targeting the use of social networking sites in crimes against children, several children were identified and removed from harm’s way. Interpol cited cooperation from Facebook officials for assistance in the case.
“The investigation was conducted with the support and assistance of Facebook officials, following the identification [by Interpol] of key targets and their associated groups within their network,” said Interpol in a release . “In some of the cases involved with this particular operation, Facebook had, in fact, already reported the individuals to law enforcement authorities,” a Facebook spokesperson told Security Management.
Though the private sector can be essential to Interpol, the partnerships are not entered into lightly, says Viedma. She says that there is an intense due-diligence process that Interpol goes through before signing an agreement with a company or group. The company must meet certain standards with regard to morality, reputation, and capability.
Viedma adds that it is also important not to create an unfair advantage in an industry for one company over another. Therefore, Interpol will not work exclusively with any private company. There will always be an open door for another company in the same industry to approach the organization. For example, Viedma says, instead of forcing all of its members to work with a certain company so that they can access DNA information, Interpol has its own tools, such as the DNA Gateway, that its members can use to access its DNA database.
Interpol is in the midst of construction on the Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore. It will help facilitate information sharing and public-private partnering. The complex is scheduled to open in 2014.
There will be a public-private partnership directorate in the Singapore office to stress that such partnerships are a two-way street, says Williams.
The Singapore complex will be important in spreading knowledge about digital tools and developing expertise in smaller countries with fewer resources, says Viedma. She adds that it will also be integral in capacity building in those less-well-resourced countries. That’s critical. “We’re only as good as our weakest link,” concurs Williams.