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Cracking the case of unstructured data

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/alexskopje)

Today’s police officers have access to huge volumes of data from an enormous variety of sources. These include video from surveillance and body-mounted cameras, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) data, phone records, as well as from historic records and information held by other government agencies. 

Digital forensics is already an integral part of nearly every investigation. Often, police officers analyse up to 20 devices in a single caseload. The types of devices include everything from smartphones, tablets, and wearable tech devices to smart TVs, computers, laptops and servers, as well as voice-controlled applications. On top of that, police officers are also analysing social media and online forums to understand and track terror threats and criminal behaviour. This is key to how effective policing operates in the digital age. 

That is all great news, right? Well, not so fast. As it turns out, all of these new sources of information are creating massive volumes of data for police departments to analyse. That creates a new set of challenges that deserve consideration as law enforcement works tirelessly to crack each and every case. 

Understanding the Data 

With all this data available to them, police forces large and small have more opportunities than ever to carry out “predictive policing” initiatives, where a forensic analysis of huge and varied data sets will enable them to highlight patterns of offences and offenders.   

But one of the biggest challenges police forces face is managing vast amounts of data when there are disparate silos in which data is recorded and where it is stored. These silos range from police station server rooms and data centres to officers’ digital devices (such as laptops, body-mounted cameras, tablets, and even data from police drones) and paperwork. 

Police forces, as with other industries, need to be able to break down these silos and easily visualise all data relevant to applicable cases so they can take action on it. They also need to be able to store all of that data in a highly intelligent manner so that they can access it on demand and meet regulatory requirements, such as the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), all while managing their IT costs.  

Effective data management starts with better visibility, insight and understanding of the information an organisation holds, especially personal data. 

Visibility into data including what information is stored, how it is used, who owns and accesses it, and whether it is complies with data governance regulations, will allow police forces to implement a more holistic approach to managing data. This approach must include the ability to automatically classify volumes of data, scanning and tagging it in a granular, intelligent manner to ensure that they can quickly discover and analyse it for relevant criminal investigations. 

An automated data classification approach will enable police officers to quickly access and analyse huge amounts of data to aid criminal investigations or identify insights, as well as to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in an effective and timely manner. 

Taking a Cloud-First Approach 

According to Veritas research (opens in new tab), more than half (56 percent) of global businesses operate with a cloud-first mentality to create agility, scale on demand, and to avoid costly long-term investments in infrastructure, especially key for police forces battling tighter budgets.  

The 24/7 nature of policing means that forces require an always-on IT infrastructure that can scale to manage data growth at exceptional levels. This is where cloud can be really effective. However, due to the nature of policing, the management and accessibility of the data remains a priority for police forces, so in some cases, police forces prefer to keep highly sensitive information on-premises. 

As a result, for many police forces, a hybrid cloud approach will work best, giving them access to the flexibility, scalability and agility offered through the cloud, combined with on-premises storage option for select types of data. But it’s critical that police forces know that, as with on-premises environments, when data is stored in the cloud, protection of that data is largely the responsibility of the police departments, not just the cloud service providers. 

Instilling a Culture of Compliance 

With increased regulatory demands, such as GDPR, being placed on all industries, organisations are focused on driving positive culture change within their businesses to ensure employees are aware of their individual responsibility for maintaining regulatory compliance.  Research found (opens in new tab) that businesses are deploying new processes and policies including training, rewards and updated contracts in support of GDPR compliance. As a result, employees will understand the role they play in protecting their organisation’s data. 

And when it comes to the proper handling of personal data, police forces are no exception.  Published in January 2017, the police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy (PEEL) report (opens in new tab) reviewed issues around the misuse of personal data within police forces, and found more than a third (37 percent) of forces ‘required improvement’. A FOI request revealed that there were 603 investigations into data misuse in 2016, and 176 in the first 100 days of 2017 alone. Instilling a culture of compliance in police forces will help each member of staff understand the importance of managing highly sensitive data with caution. 

Like today’s modern enterprises, police forces are at a turning point within their digital policing strategies where effective data management can deliver greater value to officers on the front line and be a mechanism to build public confidence when it comes to handling data. 

A cultural shift in behaviour towards protecting and managing critical data assets coupled with the use of rigorous data management tool across multi-cloud environments, will put our police forces in an even better position to derive intelligence from information. These insights are not only key to helping these brave men and women “crack the case” but can also be vital in preventing crimes moving forward.

Jason Tooley, Vice President Northern Europe at Veritas (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Alexskopje / Shutterstock

Jason Tooley is Vice President Northern Europe at Veritas Technologies.