International police agency Interpol is to harness the latest telecommunications technology to boost its effectiveness.
At the heart of this strategy is the replacement of the agency’s worldwide X.400 messaging system with a secure communications network based on the Internet.
Called Atlas, the system should “greatly increase the range and quality of services available to member states” according to a report to Interpol’s General Assembly, held in Rhodes at the start of this month. A final date for the system’s launch has yet to be established.
Last year, the X.400 system exchanged 2.5 million messages between national law enforcement offices around the world, up 13% from 1998. Atlas should help Interpol to analyse these messages, and enable it to draw conclusions about international crime patterns.
Using existing data collection methods, Interpol detected a 5% rise in messages about terrorism among European police forces in 1999, compared with 1998. This, said the report, “clearly indicates heightened awareness and activity in this area”.
The development is the latest sign that Interpol is increasingly aware of the need to adopt the leading-edge IT.
This year it has been rolling out a public access Web site, which has included its famous “most-wanted list”, containing such luminaries as Usama Bin-Laden, the Saudi Islamic terrorist, currently hiding out in Afghanistan.
Here, three mugshots are added to a physical description, personal data and a list of offences for which he is sought - counterfeiting, murder, terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, theft with violence.
The agency has invited its 178 member countries to submit details of their national fugitives for inclusion on these online “red notices”, which currently only feature a limited number of criminals. Interpol has also added a section on the theft and trafficking of cultural objects to the site.
Visitors can find information on recently stolen items - paintings, sculpture, coins, furniture and jewellery - as well as items which have been discovered but not yet claimed, in the hope that they will be able to pass on information that could lead to their recovery.
Meanwhile, Interpol has been developing software tools that will allow member countries to operate their own national Interpol sites more effectively. These include Easyform, which formats messages and an ICPO Image Viewer.
Gwen McClure, chief of the Organised Crime Branch at the Interpol General Secretariat in Lyon, France, said, “The Internet and the associated technologies developed have changed the way the world uses and exchanges information. Interpol will also be upgrading its current network to take advantage of the technologies developed and used by the Internet community worldwide.”
These Web initiatives follow the main IT task of Interpol in the 1990s, which was to ensure that police forces worldwide had compatible systems, enabling them to swap information securely and efficiently. As successful as this programme has been, work on electronic communications is still outstanding.
Interpol has been working in South-East Asia and Australasia, adding Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Fiji to its secure telecommunications network.
In partnership with the Australian government and federal police, Interpol has used a communications model developed by the South-East Asian police organisation Aseanopol to update data links between the five member countries in the Pacific region.
Interpol has also established a joint database with the UNDCP, (the UN’s anti-drug unit), and the World Customs Organisation, that will allow drugs data to be shared by the three institutions.
At the same time, a special group is creating international standards to promote interoperability and the exchange of information between national fingerprint databases.
It is hoped that these standards will be adopted by law enforcement organisations and their IT suppliers worldwide.
Interpol has been updating the search capabilities for its in-house stolen art database, which contains images of 15,000 works of art.
An Interpol DNA Monitoring Export Group is studying the global harmonisation of DNA profiles, to assist the cross-border transfer of information and the construction of effective links between national DNA databases.
The police agency has posted on its open access Internet site presentations made at the first DNA Users Conference, to help spread expertise.