In February, CNet reported that police are looking for a “back door” to private data, in the form of “a national Web interface linking police computers with those of Internet and e-mail providers so requests can be sent and received electronically.”
This was followed up in April by a revelation that the Department of Justice had requested Yahoo emails without a warrant—because the emails were older than 180 days and stored on Yahoo servers rather than on a local machine.
Civil libertarians, of course, regard these stories as evidence of Big Brother manifesting all his totalitarian glory. But the original concept of a national network, says its originator, has been misrepresented.
More efficient, not more invasive
Sgt. Frank Kardasz is director of the Phoenix (Arizona) area Internet Crimes Against Children task force and, in a report to the Commerce Department’s Online Safety and Technology Working Group, wrote about the need for Internet service providers (ISPs) at least to maintain records for longer than the few weeks they currently do—up to a year or longer.
“The trouble with real life policing is that there are reporting delays from victims, overwhelming caseloads for detectives, forensics analysts and prosecutors, time delays or no response from Internet service providers and many other systemic issues that impede the rapid completion of our work,” he wrote in his report, “Internet Crimes Against Children and Internet Service Providers: Investigators Request Improved Data Retention and Response.”
Similar problems exist among government agencies, which is why Los Angeles County instituted the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Report System. The Web-based system links public agencies together, replacing outdated forms of communication like faxes and postal mail, and reducing the likelihood that charges will be dropped or reduced due to missing evidence.
Not a direct link from law enforcement to private records, it doesn’t carry quite the same implications for privacy. It does, however, solve very similar problems, and as the first of its kind in the country, could easily serve as a model for other efforts.
The need for a strong model is particularly important when it comes to security. Many companies have hesitated over moving to “the cloud,” fearful of what might happen if a malware-infected PC accessed cloud-based private information. (Many of these issues are discussed in our white paper, “Basic Digital Officer Safety.”)
However, the U.S. Army is now using “milBook”, a secure Facebook-like interface restricted to its own personnel. Connecting people with each other as well as with defense-related topics, milBook facilitates the sharing of a broad range of information. Fundamentally, it might be compared to the Regional Information Sharing System, though more socially oriented.
Whether this would be as easy to set up is debatable, however. The Army, after all, has the DoD to administer its private network. For the DOJ to set up and maintain a public-private information exchange would not, to put it lightly, sit well with groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
More likely may be for the DOJ to require ISPs to set up their own networks. Some already do, as CNet pointed out. The networks would have to comply with certain requirements regarding data storage and speed of retrieval, but the companies would retain control of user information.
The need for better ISP support
Kardasz noted, based on a 2009 survey of 100 investigators:
- 61% reported ISP delays and limited time periods for storage detrimentally affected their investigations.
- 47% reported they had to end investigations because the ISP didn’t retain the data they needed to make a case.
- 89% wanted to see a national network established to make legal process requests more efficient.
“Investigators recognize that the subject of data preservation is controversial,” Kardasz wrote. “I think investigators respect the Constitution, support the rights of Commerce and simultaneously want to protect citizens from cybercrime. They seem to be asking for a system that is more efficient, not more invasive, a system that favors the crime-fighters instead of the criminals.”
What law enforcement can do
In last month’s issue of Law Enforcement Technology, Vere president and CEO Todd Shipley was quoted as saying, “It’s not just a federal problem. It’s a state and local problem too because the victims are citizens of the local community.”
So while ISPs can improve their processes, so can law enforcement. Todd’s recommendations: Know how to take reports on cyber crimes. Collect information the cybercrime experts need. Know how to share information and with whom. These pieces, the building blocks of professional police response, must be in place so that whatever ISPs institute to help law enforcement, it will be supported rather than criticized.
Christa M. Miller is Vere Software’s marketing/public relations consultant. She specializes in law enforcement and digital forensics and can be reached at christa at christammiller dot com.