Law Enforcement Technology

  • Patriot ActPrivacy concerns potentially an obstacle to 1 June Patriot Act reauthorization

    With the USA Patriot Act set to expire on 1 June, lawmakers are debating whether the bill, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk metadata of U.S. phone records, should be extended. The act was last renewed in 2011, before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the U.S. intelligence agency’s surveillance activities. The debate around the reauthorization of the Patriot Act focuses on Section 215 of the law, used by the NSA to mass collect phone records in an effort to locate terrorists who might be calling supporters in the United States.

  • SurveillanceJustice Department takes first step toward expansion of search warrants’ reach

    The Justice Department has taken a first step toward allowing judges to grant warrants for remote searches of computers located outside their district, or when the location is unknown. On Monday, the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules approved an amendment to Rule 41 by an 11-1 vote. The existing provision allows judges to approve search warrants only for material within the geographic bounds of their judicial district, but the FBI has said it needs the rule updated to address the increasingly complex digital realities of modern day.

  • ForensicsRecovering obliterated serial numbers in metals

    Law enforcement agencies use serial numbers to track ownership of firearms and build criminal cases. Serial numbers, however, can be removed by scratching, grinding or other methods. Analysts typically try to restore the numbers with acid or electrolytic etching or polishing, because deformed areas behave differently from undamaged material. These methods, however, do not always work. Researchers have now demonstrated a technique for mapping deformation in metals that can recover destroyed serial numbers on metal objects such as firearms, a common challenge in forensics.

  • ForensicsFrench experts rule out foul play in 2004 death of Yasser Arafat

    A French prosecutor yesterday announced that French medical and forensic experts have ruled out poisoning as the cause of the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts, following a thorough examination, found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death. The findings by the French experts are identical to findings by a different French team and to the findings of Russian experts. A Swiss team, however, initially said that their test results of personal affects left behind by Arafat led them to conclude that radioactive poisoning was “more consistent” as an explanation of Arafat’s death.

  • Nuclear forensicsNuclear forensics to the aid of nuclear detectives

    Fans of the popular TV series “CSI” know that the forensics experts who investigate crime scenes are looking for answers to three key questions: “Who did it; how did they do it; and can we stop them from doing it again?” The field of nuclear forensics has similar goals and uses similar techniques — but with even higher stakes. “In nuclear forensics, we want to know first, is someone able to put together the parts to make a nuclear weapon and set it off?” says one researcher. “And second, if one is set off, can we find out who did it, how they did it and are they going to do it again? Like traditional forensics, we’re looking for nuclear signatures, just like fingerprints; we’re looking for the technological and material clues and evidence to tell us what somebody had done to make this unfortunate thing happen.”

  • Patriot ActClapper: Congress would be blamed if Section 215 is not renewed -- and “untoward incident” occurred

    James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that if Congress failed to reauthorize a controversial provision of the Patriot Act by June, then lawmakers who opposed the renewal of the provision – Section215 – would bear the blame if a terrorist attack, which could have been prevented by actions Section 215 permits, happened. Clapper said that if Congress decided not to renew the Patriot Act, or decided to renew it without Section 215, and an “untoward incident” occurred as a result, he hopes “everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility” and does not just blame the intelligence community.

  • SurveillanceFISA court reauthorizes NSA’s bulk metadata collection until 1 June

    More than a year after President Barack Obama announced that he will work with Congress to curb the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet surveillance program which collects large amounts of U.S. phone metadata, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved last week a government request to continue allowing the agency to operate its bulk data collection until 1 June, when the legal authority for the program is set to expire. The required reauthorization of the program every ninety days has already been granted four other times — March, June, September, December — since Obama made his announcement in January 2014.

  • SurveillanceKouachi intelligence failure: The struggle to balance security, privacy, budgetary concerns

    About seven months before the attacks on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, French domestic intelligence agency monitored Saïd Kouachi for at least two years, and his younger brother Chérif Kouachi for at least a year. The surveillance of both brothers had led nowhere, and was later considered a non-priority for intelligence officials. The Kouachi brothers did not appear to be an imminent threat, and it would have taken twenty-five agents to monitor the two brothers around the clock. Experts say that the failures and missteps by French law enforcement in the Kouachi case should be a lesson to other Western governments which may have relaxed surveillance practices targeted at would-be terrorists in order to comply with budget cuts or out of genuine concern for civil liberties.

  • CrimeHair dye “CSI” could help police solve crimes

    Criminals with a penchant for dyeing their hair could soon pay for their vanity, as scientists have found a way to analyze hair samples at crime scenes to rapidly determine whether it was colored and what brand of dye was used. Researchers showed that surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) could be used rapidly to confirm whether hair samples, even microscopic ones, were dyed and what brand of colorant was used.

  • Rail securityRailway stations should adopt some of the security strategies deployed by airports: Experts

    A 2013 study by the U.K. Home Officerecorded crime rates across every postcode in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and found that four of the top ten U.K. crime hot spots are major railway stations. Railway stations experience large volume of crime due to their highly congested environments, which gives pickpockets and thieves opportunities to find a target. Large stations are also introducing more retail outlets, which increases the likelihood of more shoplifting offenses. Experts note that airports have many of those same characteristics, but they fare far better in crime rates. These experts argue that rail stations should adopt some of the strategies deployed by airports around the world.

  • Explosives detectionLos Alamos leads collaborative effort of explosives detection innovation, education

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory is leading a collaboration of strategic public and private partners focused on the innovations in and education about explosives detection technologies. The Los Alamos Collaboration for Explosives Detection (LACED) site serves as a virtual gateway to world-class expertise and capabilities designed to counter all types of explosives threats, predominantly through enhanced detection capabilities. The site went public online in January and is beginning to attract attention among specialty audiences.

  • TerrorismWomen more active in extremist Islamist groups than previously thought

    About 10 percent of ISIS recruits from Europe, and about 20 percent of recruits from France, are women. Though they tend to play a supportive role in the Islamic extremism narrative, women can be just as radical. “What’s very striking is that she’s not an exception; she’s an example of a trend,” one expert says of Hayat Boumeddiene, the 26-year old partner of Paris gunman Amedy Coulibaly. “There tends to be an assumption with women that they’re doing it under influence, they’re being forced or tricked. But I think there’s a more complicated story here, feelings of alienation.”

  • RadicalizationNYPD’s radicalization report criticized

    In a Sunday morning interview on 970 AM The Answer, New York Police Department(NYPD) deputy commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller criticized a 7-year old report on Islamic radicalization in New York City. The report, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” published by the NYPD Intelligence Division under former police commissioner Ray Kelly, came under fire after a series of articlesdetailed some of the division’s counterterrorism operations, including the monitoring of prominent Muslims and Muslim communities in New York City. Those articles contributed to the closure of the unit, which conducted the NYPD’s surveillance operations on New York’s Muslim communities.

  • Drone securityNew technology proves effective in thwarting cyberattacks on drones

    Engineering researchers from the University of Virginia and the Georgia Institute of Technology have successfully flight-tested scenarios which could threaten drones, including ground-based cyber-attacks. The demonstration of U.Va’s System-Aware Cybersecurity concept and Secure Sentinel technology was part of a research project led by U.Va. engineers to detect and respond to cyber-attacks on unmanned aerial systems.

  • SurveillanceThe many problems with the DEA's bulk phone records collection program

    By Hanni Fakhoury

    Think mass surveillance is just the wheelhouse of agencies like the NSA? Think again. One of the biggest concerns to come from the revelations about the NSA’s bulk collection of the phone records of millions of innocent Americans was that law enforcement agencies might be doing the same thing. It turns out this concern was valid, as last week the government let slip for the first time that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had also been collecting the phone records of Americans in bulk since the 1990s.