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Part 8


National Partnership for Reinventing Government


Imagine this: At the scene of an accident, a police officer arrests a driver of a van for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. As a result of the accident, it can be seen that the van is filled with new computer equipment. The officer accesses the Global Criminal Justice Information Network at the scene. The local police unit swiftly scans in the driver's fingerprints and immediately transmits them as digital images to the police crime lab via a secure wireless link.

A match of the prints quickly establishes the offender's positive identity. His multimedia criminal record, complete with color photograph, fingerprints, and other data, appears on the screen. Noting that the record indicates the suspect was recently arrested in another jurisdiction for possessing stolen property, the officers check the serial numbers of the computer equipment. Through the information network, the officers learn that the computers were stolen from a New York City harbor freight terminal.

The arresting officers post an up-to-date digital photo identification of the van driver on the network. The driver is identified as a member of an international cartel and wanted by the U.S. and several other nations. The U.S. Customs Service and the United Kingdom Customs Service claim the computer property, which belongs to a London wholesaler.

The information network automatically notifies local booking record systems and other jurisdictions that the driver has been arrested and is in custody. The information is also automatically forwarded to the local prosecutor's office to initiate the filing of criminal charges against the suspect.

The war on crime is a global issue. A Global Criminal Justice Information Network, with proper security and privacy controls, would allow the criminal justice community to immediately share comprehensive case management, incident, and investigative data across local, regional, state, national, and international boundaries. Quick and easy access to law enforcement incident and arrest records would assist all components of the criminal justice community in apprehending, charging, prosecuting, and convicting criminals.

In many cases, criminal records, arrest warrants, mug shots, fingerprints, and other relevant information are located in separate information systems that do not connect to one another. In other instances, much of the information can be found only in paper-based filing systems. Where automated record systems have been established, the information is primarily text-based. There has been little progress integrating graphical information such as prisoner mug shots and fingerprint records.

Complete and timely criminal justice information on-line would serve the courts and prosecution, providing criminal history record information for pretrial release and sentencing decisions. Corrections officials also need complete criminal history record information for housing, vocational, and programmatic decisions. Indeed, the entire criminal justice system needs immediate access to comprehensive, reliable, and timely data on individuals, incidents, and cases.

Recently, many federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have purchased high-tech software applications, appliances, and hardware in an effort to modernize their organizations. Separate initiatives are underway to enable these organizations to improve information sharing.

For example, the Justice Department financed the development of six Regional Information Sharing Systems designed to support federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts to combat criminal activity across jurisdictional boundaries. The regional sharing centers focus on narcotics trafficking, violent crime, criminal gang activity, and organized crime. Because of its charge to investigate complex criminal organizations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has formed Criminal Intelligence Squads across federal, state, and local agencies. The ability to transmit color photographs and full text using off-the-shelf hardware and software is inherent in this important intelligence sharing system. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is a network that links the law enforcement, financial, and regulatory communities. Three FinCEN programs, the Suspicious Activity Reporting System (SARS), Gateway, and the FinCEN Artificial Intelligence (AI) System are examples of integrated criminal justice information technology systems. SARS is a system for reporting and sharing suspicious financial activity among regulatory, law enforcement, and criminal justice organizations, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the U.S. Secret Service, and 93 U.S. Attorney Offices. Gateway provides law enforcement agencies in the 50 states and the District of Columbia the means to identify and stop money laundering activities. The AI system provides a means to evaluate widely disparate elements of information and develop leads for new investigations without the need for hiring additional analysts.

Unfortunately a significant part of this modernization is occurring without the aid of an overall plan for interconnecting these systems to create a Global Criminal Justice Information Network. As federal, state, and local agencies move forward to deploy the latest technologies and integrate them into their existing infrastructures, there should be a plan to ensure that systems are able to communicate with one another.


As the country continues to benefit from the information era, increased pressure will be placed on law enforcement and criminal justice organizations to modernize their records systems. As an example, the capture and booking of suspects is moving toward the use of digital fingerprint technology. Only a few law enforcement agencies at the federal and state levels have begun to explore the concept of an interconnected multimedia criminal record network that integrates information such as photograph identification, fingerprints, and arrest records. The foremost example is the Joint Automated Booking Station, which involves the electronic collection, storage, and transmittal of photographs, fingerprints, and biographical information about arrestees. However, concentration so far has been in the area of intra-state or intra-city information exchange.

Systems that are being produced are in different stages of development and implementation. They receive funding from various federal, state, and local sources and operate with widely varying degrees of coordination, effectiveness, and integration with other law enforcement and criminal justice record systems. This diverse criminal justice information landscape includes sectors such as juvenile justice and, to a lesser extent, the courts and correction, which generally lag behind others in developing and using on-line and other automated information resources. To improve these conditions, the Clinton Administration should commit itself to a priority program to develop and coordinate criminal justice information resources.

Another challenge to realizing the implementation of a Global Criminal Justice Information Network is the disparate federal, state, and local software applications that run on independent platforms. These platforms can range from mainframe systems that were put in service in the 1970s, to PC-based applications that are locally customized, or to more sophisticated database designs used by state identification bureaus. A cost-effective global criminal justice network, using common interface standards, can be designed to facilitate information sharing across any agency or platform. For instance, a concept such as “data warehousing” is an ideal information sharing idea that is under development in Iowa. Federal access will be included in the warehouse concept. Other states have similar ideas.

To conserve resources, the current efforts to develop the National Information Infrastructure could be used to leverage investments in information technology and help the criminal justice community realize a greater return on investment dollars.

A Global Criminal Justice Information Network must also provide the necessary protection to maintain the privacy of records. Safeguards must be developed that would ensure that records are only used by law enforcement officers or others who have the authority and need to access the information. The records must be secure to protect personal privacy. People should be able to review information about themselves for accuracy and request changes. The corrections should be applied wherever the record appears. Procedures, such as case disposition information from the courts, must be in place that will assure the degree of accuracy needed to prevent false accusations. New record formats should be designed to ensure that all the necessary information is provided in the criminal record to eliminate error and confusion.

The challenges to implementing a Global Criminal Justice Information Network are not insurmountable. The Internet provides information about many products and applications being tested for use in law enforcement communications. Additionally, under the National Performance Review, actual laboratories are in place to test the application of information technology to specific network communications problems. Within the criminal justice community, there are numerous criminal justice Web sites that foster information sharing, to include federal and state criminal justice reference repositories containing statistics and other useful information. For instance, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a directory of missing persons available on the Internet. Maps and other open source information are available for law enforcement personnel through the Internet. Telecommunications systems such as Justice Department networks, the Treasury Communications Systems, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems (NLETS) currently provide a secure and reliable infrastructure that must be included in plans for a Global Criminal Justice Information Network.


The Attorney General, as the leader of a national initiative to coordinate the realization of a Global Criminal Justice Information Network, in cooperation with other federal, state, and local law enforcement entities, should undertake the following actions:

1. Define the criminal justice community's information requirements.

By May 1997, a joint federal, state, and local government advisory group should be formed to define the core requirements of a Global Criminal Justice Information Network. Core requirements should include security and privacy protections. By September 1997, this group should also identify the challenges, such as funding, standards, and leadership, that might delay the network's implementation.

2. Test core requirements.

By December 1997, conduct field tests that show how selected core requirements can be implemented utilizing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products.

3. Establish a joint government-private sector Criminal Justice Information Advisory Group.

By June 1997, a joint government and private sector advisory group of the federal, state, and local criminal justice agencies and the law enforcement information industry should be formed to promote market-based solutions.

4. Prepare Global Criminal Justice Information Network plans.

By June 1998, review the test results and prepare an implementation plan for the Global Criminal Justice Information Network. These system development and implementation plans should be used by criminal justice agencies at all levels of government to prepare the Fiscal Year 2000 budget requests.

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