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Government: leveraging resources for greater effectiveness

This article appears in the issue May 2009, [Vol 18, Issue 5]
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When it comes to data sharing by law enforcement agencies, the primary obstacles are not usually technological, but territorial. Agencies understandably want to retain authority over areas, both geographical and functional, for which they are held responsible. Still, at a
time when resources are scarce and demands are many, more law enforcement organizations are participating in data sharing systems, and have reaped significant benefits. Consolidating data from multiple agencies has allowed for better analysis, leading to the capture of lawbreakers who would otherwise have gone free.

The Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) is a data sharing initiative launched to improve information sharing across all levels of law enforcement in regions of the United States having critical Department of Defense and Navy assets. The program is run by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and operates in seven regions, with two additional regions under development. One of the underlying concepts of LInX is that information collected at the local level can lead to resolution of broader criminal activities.

To alleviate concerns about sharing access to data contained in each jurisdiction, an information architecture was developed that pushes data out of each database, at the discretion of the responsible organization, onto a "front porch" location beyond the agency’s firewall. From there, it is incorporated into a separate data warehouse in an Oracle relational database. Queries are run against the data warehouse, not against the source data.

Different agencies have different policies for release of data, making a consistent standard of openness difficult to come by.

Agency participation

"Sometimes it takes a lot of discussion with the local agencies to arrive at a consensus," says Dan Estrem, a consultant at the Center for Strategic Management (CSM), which conducts strategic planning for law enforcement and has been involved in the development of LInX, "but so far we have had 100 percent involvement by all the local law enforcement agencies that we invited to participate."

More than 500 municipal, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies are participating, and the system now contains over 500 million records.

Often, the first contact made with an individual who later turns out to be involved in more serious crimes is for a relatively minor infraction such as a traffic violation. For example, a 9/11 terrorist who piloted a plane into the Pentagon had received a speeding ticket just weeks before the attack. The ability to alert law enforcement officials to the presence of a suspected Al Qaeda member in the Washington, D.C., area could have contributed to detection of the plan ahead of time. Also, following the connections from one individual to another can lead to much more important criminals.

The example of a drug user arrested by local police shows how far the system can reach. "The individual was a ‘frequent flier’ in the law enforcement community, with 81 incidents to which he was connected," Estrem says. "His phone number was linked to five cases in another jurisdiction, three of which contained his name but two of which did not. In those cases, the phone number was used by two people who had been in an automobile accident." One of those individuals was in turn linked to an abandoned vehicle and an address where an incident had occurred. From that address, authorities identified a local airstrip where drugs were being smuggled from overseas by individuals with terrorist connections.

The image on page 10 (KMWorld, Vol 18 Issue 5) shows the LInX interface and illustrates graphically how successive queries led to information in different jurisdictions and narrowed the search.

The LInX system has overcome organizational barriers and now connects local data across participating jurisdictions. Federal agencies also contribute and access the data. By drawing from existing data sources without requiring additional funding at the local level, LInX is effectively leveraging information that has already been collected, and adding value by making it more accessible. Because the participating agencies are confident with the LInX security measures and because their own databases are not being directly accessed, the program has achieved a high level of participation and success.

The switch to XML

In another innovative approach to managing information, the U.S. State Department is now using XML technology to improve efficiency in posting documents to its Web site and to enhance the usability of those documents for researchers and policyholders. Among its many duties, the State Department is tasked with preparing and publishing the official historical records of U.S. foreign policy.

Each year, the State Department publishes a series of volumes referred to as the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). The volumes consist of groups of documents that are organized by topic area and cover a particular time period, typically 30 years in the past. The appropriate documents are identified at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, archives.gov), declassified if necessary, and incorporated into the volumes. For each presidential administration, 30 to 50 volumes are produced, each with 800 to 1,200 pages.

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