FBI launches regional data sharing system

The FBI is rolling out a program that allows federal law enforcement agencies and state and local police forces to share information throughout local regions of the country.

The Regional Data Exchange works through local law enforcement offices and allows state, local and tribal law enforcement investigators access to federal information and intelligence data relevant to investigations within their jurisdictions. The FBI did not provide cost estimates for the system, but said it is paid for by regional and local law enforcement agencies.

The program was first launched in St. Louis as part of the FBI's National Information Sharing System, and a similar program will be established in Seattle later this summer. Plans for augmenting the system include adding data from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The Seattle program will link with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service's Law Enforcement Information Exchange, which serves as the region's law enforcement information-sharing system.

Information on the system includes the identities of vehicles and weapons, addresses and phone numbers. The program allows cases to be plotted on maps so geographical patterns can be identified. Users are able to update data on their own and as often as necessary.

The Regional Data Exchange is the first of several systems that will feed into the Justice Department's Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program.

FBI spokeswoman Megan Baroska said the agency has not decided which location will next receive the system, but the decision will be driven by threat-based factors. The FBI hopes to implement the program nationwide, but a timeline has not been established, Baroska said.

The FBI's chief information officer, Zalmai Azmi, said in a statement that the program is a major step toward the goal of open information sharing between law enforcement agencies around the country.

"One of the strongest defenses the United States has in our efforts against terrorism is to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the information they need to detect and prevent possible threats," Azmi said. "The FBI will continue to increase access between [the program] and other regional state, local and tribal law enforcement systems."

Justice Department Chief Information Officer Vance Hitch told a congressional committee in July 2004 that the information-sharing program is a platform for bringing together decentralized law enforcement agencies with strong independent cultures and encouraging them to share data more effectively.

"We now have … the Bible of what we're trying to do to achieve information sharing," Hitch told the committee. "[Justice Department information technology projects] had their origins as stovepipe systems … so it was my job to somehow fit them together."

Richard Scott, IBM's director of justice and law enforcement, said that the program is a major step forward for the FBI in information sharing. "It's something that we'll have to all model," he said.

Scott said that as the government attempts to define what a case-management system looks like, establishing a data-sharing repository is helpful because sharing information is at the heart of case management.

The FBI has struggled to implement a case-management system; earlier this year, the agency's Virtual Case File project was abandoned. The new project, known as Sentinel, will be headed by former CIA program manager Miodrag Lazarevich.

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