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The future of shared intelligence


Originally posted for CameraForensics

Technology has changed how intelligence on criminal activity is shared and communicated. The volume of data on the planet is increasing at an unprecedented pace, putting pressure on intelligence agencies to improve how cybercrime is tracked and combatted. Officers have a short window to charge an offender but good policework is a finite resource – there are only so many hours in a day.

The obvious challenge with cybercrime is that it shows no respect for borders – it’s a global problem. A child sexual exploitation crime may take place in one continent, but criminals may view and share on illegal images all over the world, for instance. Still, the system is set up so that intelligence services have responsibility for a patch of ground, whether that is local, federal, national or international.

Digital forensics technology can help agents cross these boundaries, locating victims across the globe and expediting time-to-arrest. CameraForensics’s online imaging intelligence platform crawls the open internet, searching for images and using mass analytics and big data to analyse these to make connections between a criminal’s innocent, public persona and their covert, illicit activity.

These connections can help officers achieve the first step in an arrest – geolocating the offender and finding where they are in the “real world”. This is no easy feat. There are cases that would be impossible to solve without this type of technological assistance. We design our technology in collaboration with law enforcement and intelligence services. In one case, by using our image intelligence, officers working in the Southern Hemisphere, Europe and the Americas were able to go from the discovery of the illegal image to an arrest on the other side of the planet in less than a day.

Fighting international cybercrime effectively relies heavily on international intelligence sharing. And avoiding the duplication of work on the same data is a big challenge. Investigators can no longer click through images manually to determine what does and what doesn’t require attention, so technologies such as web crawling, AI and Machine Learning have become fundamental in doing some of this technical heavy lifting and freeing up intelligence services to tackle the strategic and logistical side of policework.

It takes a network to beat a network. There are many different stakeholders working on combatting cybercrime beyond just investigators themselves, from NGOs, governments and academia to psychologists, technology firms and even wives of perpetrators. It makes sense to invest in collaboration and avoid the duplication of work – the best successes we have seen in policework always come from that collaboration.

But using technology to drive improved intelligence sharing is not just about having the technical expertise. Multiple organisational and extra-organisational factors (legal, bureaucratic and ethical) present challenges in the implementation of tech-enabled intelligence sharing.

Each country has its own legislative framework – what is legal and what isn’t differs depending on where you are. This not only makes international crimes much harder to solve but impacts the types of technology that can and cannot be used to do so. In their proposal for further European-wide regulation on electronic evidence in criminal matters, the European Union called for improved flexibility for Member States to access electronic evidence across borders. A lack of overarching international regulation on how law enforcement from multiple countries can access and store the same electronic evidence is creating barriers to solving crimes of a global nature.

Technology will certainly have a huge part to play in improving international data sharing in law enforcement. Yet understandable public concerns around privacy also present a significant obstacle to achieving future innovations in shared intelligence. An agent cannot simply go out and buy the most innovative technology available on the market – it needs to comply with the highest standards in security and data protection. Authorities will need to work with digital evidence firms to iron out these issues and prevent digital evidence gaps.

The work of Project VIC goes a considerable way towards achieving this and is the initiative of Rich Brown, former Technology Advancement Officer at ICMEC (International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children) and now Director and Co-Founder of Project VIC, Johann Hofmann, Director and Head of Griffeye, and US Homeland Security Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Cole, amongst others. Since founding, Project Vic has equally been strongly championed by many others in this space and is a symbol of what collaboration can achieve. By creating a data standard for data sharing amongst law enforcement agents, Project VIC allows compliant software providers to share data with each other and counter threats more effectively. I am proud to say that CameraForensics is a Project VIC compliant technology.

The faster technology moves, the more determined intelligence agents will need to be to counter cybercrime in all its forms, from human trafficking to child sexual exploitation. Despite the challenges, agents are increasingly harnessing new innovations in digital forensics. What I think we will see is the future of shared intelligence becoming an even more collaborative movement centred around one goal – strengthening international cooperation against cybercrime.