ID in 90 seconds: CrimTrac's database goes mobile

Open information revolutionising law enforcement

State police in collaboration with CrimTrac are trialling mobile identification of persons of interest by using mobile networks to transmit information and photos to a device within 90 seconds of a fingerprint scan.

This is now possible with CrimTrac's standards-based National Police Reference System (NPRS) which can be accessed with a PC, moble device or via a Web service.

NPRS is a "broker" that queries information from nine separate police information systems around the country and then presents it in a format accessible to any third-party that is granted access.

CrimTrac CEO Ben McDevitt said the organisation is now trialling a mobile fingerprint device with NSW Police that can query the NPRS and the national fingerprint database and deliver information and a photo (if one exists) to the device within 90 seconds.

"A lot of the mobility issues had been solved by the jurisdictions, particularly in WA and NSW," McDevitt said. "For CrimTrac it was a matter of what is already in place and to link that up nationally."

State police forces are using Telstra's 3G network for the transmission of data, but since the NPRS is standards-based any transport mechanism can be used.

"Our vision is to take a leadership role in information sharing solutions for police departments around the country - and there are nine different, disparate systems - because information is the lifeblood in the fight against organized crime," McDevitt said.

CrimTrac is now processing 175,000 NPRS transactions per day from a user base of some 50,000 people around the country.

"We also have a number of other agencies that have applied for access to the system," he said. "It could be related to youth suicide, border security, or for any stakeholder that needs access to critical information and we are working through these individually."

McDevitt described CrimTrac as an "active" information system whereas previous information systems were "backend" systems.

With nearly 9 million records and 2.2 million photos the NPRS and can be accessed on police desktops, car terminals or portable device to obtain a nationwide view of persons of interest and police can "stay on the beat".

McDevitt said the NPRS also provides a platform for other "timely enhancements".

"Now there is pressure to add other data sets to it now people see its value," he said.

"Information about organized crime groups and outlaw motorcycle groups could be added to the system which could also be extended to firearms."

"Adoption of system has already resulted in faster identification of people, shorter investigation times, simpler investigation flows, and it is helping to bring greater consistency across jurisdictions and has revolutionised the way law enforcement does its business."

Although CrimTrac is a relatively small agency with some 200 staff, it is about number 15 in terms of IT spend for the Commonwealth, so sourcing skills is a challenge.

"With only 200 people you need to be careful about staff selection so you get the right mix of in-house and contract staff," McDevitt said, adding CrimTrac used to outsource project management, but won't do it again to ensure people in such roles feel part of the organisation.

Regarding privacy concerns, McDevitt said anywhere where technology and policing intersect there will also be privacy issues.

"The privacy impact assessment is a powerful way to manage privacy issues. There is concern about the mass of personal information held by various organizations and any access into CrimTrac is 'auditible'," he said.

"There will always be breaches where people access information inappropriately and there is a real temptation to link data where it can be linked so we have to make sure we get the balance right."

CrimTrac is now engaged with New Zealand police departments to explore opportunities for greater information exchange of persons of interest.

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