3 Things You Need to Know About Open Data in Law Enforcement

Data has the power to drive decisions in the law enforcement community. However, many law enforcement agencies are unable to optimize data because processes across agencies are disjointed and often are not utilizing appropriate technologies. In order to allow data to transform law enforcement, agencies must learn how to utilize technologies that properly find, sort, analyze and disseminate their data.

In order to better understand how the law enforcement community is optimizing data, GovLoop and Red Hat hosted the “How Law Enforcement and Data Connect” roundtable discussion. Allison Tsiumis, Section Chief of the Cyber Intelligence Section in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division and Joe Sangiuliano, Federal Sales Manager at Red Hat offered an inside perspective into how law enforcement agencies are collecting, storing and sharing data and the challenges they face in these processes.

Collecting data

Law enforcement agencies’ ability to obtain data is often hindered by the processes in place to do so. Despite the efforts of many agencies to move to the cloud, data is largely still stuck in siloed, proprietary and legacy systems. One roundtable attendee explained that many state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies individually collect all the same information on a convicted individual. Collecting data like this is inefficient and can place barriers in investigations and overall law enforcement processes.

In addressing the challenge of siloed data, Sangiuliano explained that widespread coordination is occurring but it is a process that takes time. He said, “when collecting data we started with drawing it from mainframes and then moved to servers and most recently to virtualization. Now the next step is data virtualization where the data is sovereign and agencies do not have to rely on data silos anymore.” This will allow law enforcement agencies to pull and look at the data they need when they need it.

Additionally, Tsiumis explained that the cyber intelligence community, lead by ODNI, is working to develop a common language throughout the cyber threat framework. This will allow for uniform collection of data that will also set the stage for more consistent storage and dissemination efforts.

Storing Data

Storing data for law enforcement is often challenging because of the combination of unclassified, sensitive, and classified data that is collected. Sangiuliano emphasized that virtualization is key to data storage solutions because the main issue with storing data is that data is siloed in too many warehouses. “Virtualization through open source makes it so agencies do not have to worry about where the data resides and allows it to be accessed anywhere in a consumable way.”

Another big concern for data storage is effectively securing it once it is stored. Sangiuliano assured that virtualized data can be effectively secured by taking into account proper security and storage measures. This is largely due to the open source model. Sangiuliano explained, “open source systems are more secure because there are so many different eyes looking at the software so the operating system’s vulnerabilities are able to be discovered much quicker than non-open source software systems.” He accepted that prevention of cyberattacks is not always possible but with an effective system in place to identify weaknesses, vulnerabilities can be plugged quicker.

Sharing Data

Disseminating timely data is one of the biggest challenges that law enforcement agencies face. This is largely due to the lack of cooperation between agencies. This sentiment was echoed around the roundtable, as many participants emphasized that they encounter a lot of systems that don’t speak to each other, hindering progress.

One participant explained that her department is working on heat mapping crime in Washington, DC. She emphasized that the program is wildly successful so far and could have an impact on and help a slew of agencies. However, there are not established processes to share innovative projects and data across agencies and as a result, the project is not being as effectively utilized as it could be.

Sangiuliano assured that in his experience, there is some coordination across agencies but he emphasized that there must be more concentrated efforts. He explained, “when you are looking for data you may not even know who has the data, then you have to reach out and obtain the data, and then once you have the data is may not be as operational as you need it to be. As a result, agencies must work together to streamline this and make the processes surrounding data more efficient.”

Looking forward, bridging the gap between agencies and fostering cooperation is going to be key to making open data most useful in the law enforcement community. It will be crucial to obtain small wins that build a foundation and momentum that will ultimately lead to growth.

For more information on how open source technologies can impact how law enforcement agencies approach data, check out GovLoop’s recent guide “Leveraging Your Video Data with Open Source.”


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