Since the day legal codes were first introduced, law enforcement has been in a constant race to stay one step ahead of criminals who are quick to use the latest technologies to their advantage.

“Digital Intelligence is the data collected and preserved from digital sources and data types [smartphones, computers, and the Cloud] and the process by which agencies collect, review, analyze, manage, and obtain insights from this data to run their investigations more efficiently.”

Whether it’s criminals using the latest encrypted apps and devices to hide their activity or law enforcement utilizing Digital Intelligence (DI) to accelerate justice, the race continues. (Digital Intelligence is the data collected and preserved from digital sources and data types [smartphones, computers, and the Cloud] and the process by which agencies collect, review, analyze, manage, and obtain insights from this data to run their investigations more efficiently.)

As technologies evolve and are quickly adopted by criminals, law enforcement must also be equipped to stay ahead. There is one monumental difference, however, and that is in how these two entities utilize technology.

The Lawful Use of Digital Intelligence

Criminals are not bound by laws and freely use whatever tech is available to carry out crimes regardless of who gets impacted. Law enforcement, however, is bound by law to utilize technology lawfully in investigations. Therefore, Digital Evidence is collected under warrant, after a crime has occurred.

To stay one step ahead of criminals, legislators need to provide the funding needed to invest in the technology and training necessary for law enforcement to protect the communities they serve. (Source: Shutterstock)

There is no doubt that the lawful collection of digital evidence is more important today in prosecuting the guilty and exonerating the innocent than ever before. Cellebrite’s 2021 Digital Intelligence Benchmark Report (soon to be published) revealed that “in the last year, smartphones were an evidence source in 96% of investigations, followed by Windows laptops (52%), feature phones (45%), and tablets (39%). Emerging technologies, a growing source of digital evidence that includes wearables and cryptocurrencies, also provided evidence in 8% of crimes in 2020.” The problem law enforcement faces in North America today is having the resources and technology solutions in place to utilize the data more effectively to protect communities.   

“Whether it’s criminals using the latest encrypted apps and devices to hide their activity or law enforcement utilizing Digital Intelligence (DI) to accelerate justice, the race continues.”

Government funding for technology updates is critically important as is community support for law enforcement agencies trying to protect them. Law enforcement is also dependent on their partnership with those in the private sector who continue to provide innovative technology solutions, training, and support to help them stay ahead of the curve, run effective and efficient investigations and safeguard their communities.

Tech’s Big Impact

Around the world, the volume of devices, applications, and resultant data associated with criminal investigations is rapidly rising. Even in the simplest cases, it’s not uncommon to find multiple devices turning up as evidence sources.

Many of these devices are now highly encrypted, which makes lawful data collection a huge stumbling block, particularly during the first 48 hours of an investigation when lives may be at stake.

Add to this the sheer volume of data newer devices are capable of storing and it’s no wonder law enforcement investigators feel like they don’t always have what they need to get the job done.

While criminals bent on committing fraud, trafficking drugs and humans, and violent crimes are top of mind, law enforcement needs the tools, training, and support from the private sector to carry out their responsibilities today and prepare them for the missions of tomorrow.

The Challenges

While agencies everywhere are making significant strides to digitally transform to thwart many of these threats, a growing number of challenges remain:

Device Security: Maintaining the digital chain of evidence, ensuring that lawfully collected data is admissible in court, and keeping devices secured during investigations are critically important. Having a solution in place that provides a detailed audit of every device brought into the lab for lawful examination is the answer.

Encryption: In Cellebrite’s  2021 Digital Intelligence Benchmark Report, 56% of examiners listed the inability to extract data from encrypted apps as a major challenge. Law enforcement must have the latest digital technology solutions for unlocking encrypted devices at their disposal to discover actionable intelligence that can resolve cases faster.

Evidence Management: Agencies need a centralized, customizable evidence management system for both physical and digital evidence to streamline lab and investigator workflow management.  This can be done on premise,  in a highly secure cloud environment or in a hybrid model.. This solution needs to be scalable based on their unique storage and capability needs. It also needs to provide advanced management of roles and permissions notification of shared files, audit logs, and usage indication to ensure full monitoring of the chain of custody. Investigators should also be able to immediately review all evidence and lab findings to accelerate cases.

Funding: While a number of fantastic digital solutions and tools out there, the cost and time to develop them are high. This in turn drives costs, which can be a major obstacle for agencies on limited budgets or worse yet, reductions in budgets threatened by legislation to “defund” the police.

Expertise: It’s one thing to have the latest technologies and another to have the expertise to utilize their capabilities to the fullest. Many forces lack trained personnel with the expertise to carry out digital investigations quickly, accurately, and efficiently. Training by top professionals can help, but again, budgets can pose strict limitations on who gets trained and when.

Infrastructure: Technology is evolving rapidly. Tools used by law enforcement, therefore, must continually advance to keep up with the constant upgrades to encryption that manufacturers continually place on their devices and applications.

Government and Community Support: Government needs to step up in a big way, not only with funding for the tools and training necessary to do their job but with legislative support that prevents law enforcement from being handcuffed in the performance of their duties. Community support is also critical. Citizens working with the police is critical in stopping crime and getting those who would do harm to communities off the streets.

Taken together, these factors are why many agencies moving through a period of digital transformation to better protect the communities they serve. This includes adopting the right platforms and workflows.

Cellebrite’s complete end-to-end solution allows investigators to lawfully access all the data from devices and connect the dots through investigative analytics to close more cases faster. (Source: Cellebrite)

You’re Not Alone

While solution providers like Cellebrite are constantly innovating to provide law enforcement with the best tools available to accelerate justice and create safer communities, organizations like the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies (ASCIA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Major City Chiefs and Major County Sherriff’s are also playing an invaluable role. Together these associations are helping to educate law enforcement, the public, and those in Congress that DI solutions and tools are absolutely essential for law enforcement to protect communities and that they need to be funded now.

Help Is on the Way

The tide is clearly turning and the current administration sees the need to act now to stop the rise in crime rates. In the wake of the pandemic, guidelines are being established to detail how government funds, under the American Rescue Plan, will be allocated.

An FAQ recently released by the U.S. Department Of The Treasury states that communities can invest“ in technology and equipment to allow law enforcement to more efficiently and effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic.”

AP reports that “The Justice Department is refocusing a long-standing violent crime initiative amid a string of violence and mass shootings across the U.S. that includes embedding federal agents with local homicide investigators and sweeps to arrest wanted fugitives with a significant history of violence.”

All of these are strong steps in the right direction, but there is still more to do.

Law enforcement must have the resources to digitally transform if they are to stay ahead of tech-savvy criminals. As technology rapidly evolves, it’s clear this will not be a one-time battle. In fact, the fight will probably never be over. However, with the right DI strategies and solutions, the impact of crimes on our communities can be lessened.

At Cellebrite, we remain steadfastly committed to continually investing in new ways to assist law enforcement in getting to the critical evidence and data necessary to protect and save lives and accelerate justice while preserving data privacy.

To learn more about how Cellebrite’s Digital Intelligence solutions can help your team, click here.

About the Author: Mark Gambill oversees Cellebrite’s global marketing operations, including product marketing, advertising, promotions, analyst and public relations, field marketing, brand management, and corporate events. Mark has over 20 years of executive marketing experience across a diverse set of technology sectors with concentrations in Big Data, AI, Machine Learning, and Augmented Analytics.

Additional Reading
IACP: President’s Message: Going Dark: Addressing the Challenges of Data, Privacy, and Public Safety
Washington Post: The Cybersecurity 202: The Justice Department is racking up wins despite encryption concerns.
Wired: The FBI’s Anom stunt rattled the encryption debate.
Popular Mechanics: The NSA wants big tech to build software ‘back doors.’ Should we be worried?
CBS News: New US intelligence report warns domestic terrorism poses “elevated threat”
Forbes: FBI concerned about domestic terrorists flocking to encrypted social media platforms director says
Poynter: Growing usage of encrypted messaging apps could make it harder to combat misinformation

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