How Is Computer Technology Used in Law Enforcement?
By Clare Edwards
The use of computers in law enforcement has changed and developed rapidly, especially in recent years. Computers are used to hold databases of information, to run sophisticated software that can recognize faces or identify fingerprints and to connect to the Web, an avenue for communication and a rich source of intelligence. As well as desktop computers, law enforcement personnel also use mobile devices, such as laptops and tablets, to do their job.
Computer technology allows law enforcement services to store and retrieve vast amounts of data. This information can include details of incident reports, criminals' descriptions, fingerprints and other identifying marks. It can also include descriptions and registrations of vehicles involved in criminal activity. Another crucial pool of information is DNA data taken from suspects. DNA databases allow samples of DNA taken from suspects to be matched with samples taken from crime scenes.
Computers are an invaluable tool for communication between individuals, departments and law enforcement agencies. Documents, photographs and other material can be sent almost instantaneously from one location to another, saving valuable time. Email is a good example: Encrypted emails can be used to send important data securely while mitigating the risk that the information they contain will fall into the wrong hands.
Crime Scene Computing
Mobile computing devices -- laptops, notebook computers and tablet PCs -- are very useful to law enforcement. Armed with a laptop, a police officer can take notes, access records or contact colleagues in other districts, all without leaving a vehicle. Mobile devices can be used to check the identity or other credentials of individuals at the scene of a crime, as well as recording and tracking vital data such as vehicle license plates. Computers can also be used to track the position of GPS devices, helping law enforcement officers to find vehicles.
The Internet is used by law enforcement agencies in innumerable regards. Web sites can be used by law enforcement agencies to educate and inform the public, appeal for information or alert people to ongoing situations such as a missing child or a felon at large. Because criminals often use the Internet to share information, it can be very useful in crime prevention and detection. For instance, those responsible for a crime sometimes incriminate themselves by discussing it on social sites such as Facebook or Twitter -- this information can be used to prosecute them.
Law enforcement agencies must also use the Internet when tackling online crime. This can include the sharing of illegal material, such as pirated commercial movies or music. "Phishing" and other forms of identity theft that use email or the Internet must also be addressed using computer technology, as must attacks using viruses and hacking attacks. Law enforcements from different countries must often work together to tackle cyber crime.
Clare Edwards has been providing Internet content since 1998. She has written and translated for a variety of markets: everything from technical articles to short fiction and essays on alternative spirituality. She holds a certificate of higher education in electronics and audio arts from Middlesex University.