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Bridging the Digital Divide: Integrating Digital and Paper Evidence in Law Enforcement Operations

Border patrol hero

Nearly every law enforcement operation and intelligence analysis project will include a digital evidence component today. The information and evidence maintained in digital format can be the linchpin to successful completion of an investigation or special operation.

John Hennessy, Chairman of Alphabet, Inc., has suggested we currently create as much information in a 48-hour period as we did from the beginning of human civilization to the year 2003. In such a data-rich environment, law enforcement officers are routinely tasked with culling through volumes of digital evidence that may be important to an inquiry or operation and fully understanding the contents and context of the information.

The digital information collected from desktop and laptop computers, tablets, cellular telephones and other electronic devices can help answer relevant operational questions, identify mission critical information, and discern the identities of suspects and co-conspirators. Over the past twenty to thirty years, as the proliferation of digital devices has increased, the collection and analysis of digital evidence has become an essential component in the process of disrupting and dismantling criminal organizations and understanding the landscape in which law enforcement conducts its operations. But as critical as digital evidence is to these operations, agents and analysts would be remiss in ignoring traditional, paper-based evidence that may lead to relevant information.

EXPLOITING PAPER-BASED EVIDENCE IN A DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT

In Cross-Border Liaison and Intelligence: Practicalities and Issues, Ludo Block observed that, “[I]n practice for most criminal agents at the tactical level, the intelligence needed are those pieces of information that help them to understand the particular crime and criminal activities they are investigating. Hence, what some designate as single-source raw data – for example the billing list of a particular phone or some ‘pocket litter’ containing the serial number of a particular shipping container – could be the piece of intelligence that provides a breakthrough in an investigation.”

In the context of law enforcement operations, the collection and analysis of paper-based evidence can create significant challenges for agents and analysts tasked with understanding the connections between a variety of evidentiary sources. These challenges include converting paper-based evidence to digital format to enhance its review and analysis.

Optical character recognition (OCR) software is excellent converting machine-generated text printed against a clean background; however, there are some limits to this software in its ability to convert handwritten text to machine-readable format. You can overcome these challenges by using the right software, and once you convert machine-generated and handwritten text to a readable format, the data can empower agents and analysts in their understanding of the links between people, objects, locations, and events.

Intuitive, easy-to-use software can streamline workflows, eliminate bottlenecks in information processing, reduce inefficiencies in the analysis process by identifying duplicate documents, enable collaboration among officers, and quickly bring the relevant evidence to the forefront. The right software serves as a force multiplier, enhancing law enforcement operations at a time when limited resources are stretched to their breaking points.

ACHIEVING FUNCTIONAL CONTROL OF THE BORDER

In an environment where border law enforcement officers use anything from horses, ATVs, 4-wheel drive vehicles, and even their feet to cut sign, track drug smugglers, and apprehend groups of migrants, technology-enabled solutions can play an important role in 21st century border law enforcement.

border patrol image

Border patrol agents rely on technology to assist in their tasks. Photo by: Jonathan McIntosh

Effectively exploiting both the digital and paper-based evidence in possession of the migrants and smugglers law enforcement officers encounter daily offers opportunities to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the transnational criminal organizations that prey on vulnerable populations and undermine border law enforcement operations and national security.

Some seemingly innocuous pieces of evidence can tell border patrol agents a detailed story. This evidence can include:

  • Telephone numbers to call after entering the country
  • Names and addresses of friends or family members
  • Other contact information of persons in the country

While individual notes, names, and devices may seem unremarkable, border patrol agents encounter this information routinely. Relying on memory alone, it is unlikely an agent or officer will recall a name, address, or telephone number and make the connection between potential coconspirators. Introducing technology and intelligence solutions alters this paradigm.

Agents and analysts need to process the digital evidence and convert the handwritten notes to readable format, enabling a more detailed understanding of each item’s significance and uncovering connections between suspects and targets that might otherwise go unnoticed. Analyzing the evidence and its context facilitates the rapid identification of individuals and locations inside and outside the country who may be engaged in activities such as drug smuggling and human trafficking.

With the right technology, information sharing between local, regional, and national law enforcement becomes easier, leading in turn to more successful prosecutions and a safer populace.

THE ADDED VALUE OF NUIX

The technology-enabled solutions offered by Nuix provide law enforcement with the tools to navigate the challenges they face now and into the future. We are with our law enforcement partners every step of the way throughout the collection and analysis process. Our investigations software aids in the analysis of evidence extracted from the various devices agents and analysts encounter during routine operations, helping to slice and dice the information to get better results, faster. We bridge the divide between traditional forensics and cybersecurity investigations and the analysis of paper-based evidence, guiding agents and analysts linking suspects across the key pieces of evidence on which successful law enforcement operations rely.

Nuix makes it possible for non-technical agents and analysts to review and easily understand the relevance of all evidence, eliminating the need for forensically trained operators to participate in the evidence analysis phase, freeing them to focus on the initial collection and processing phase and maximizing the value of their specialized training.

Deployed correctly, Nuix empowers law enforcement agencies at all levels to conduct more effective, efficient, and timely operations while achieving significant savings in the number of manhours required to process, review, and analyze evidence of all types. For agents patrolling the border, this means every scrap of evidence they find can make the difference in today’s investigations and offer intelligence that could crack a case in the future.