The Data Silo Dilemma Facing Law Enforcement

From IC Insider SS8

By Kevin McTiernan, Vice President at SS8 Networks

Data silos exist in many organizations and for the most part they serve a purpose. A silo can be formed surrounding a team’s location or a department’s function. They can also be formed to protect certain data sets from undesired access.

Investigative Data Silos

However, in the case of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, data silos can be problematic. When information is needed for an investigation, the requested data arrives in various data formats from multiple sources and requires expert analysts to convert the raw data into actionable intelligence. These factors tend to drive the data into “investigative” silos.

The oldest investigative silo is telephony. While the technology behind voice services has changed dramatically from switchboards to digital switching and now VoIP, the premise is still the same—two or more people talking to each other. With the addition of paging and SMS technologies, a new source and form of data emerged. These two methods of communicating were also absorbed into the telephony investigative silo.

As technology continued to rapidly evolve, the widespread adoption of the Internet initially presented a slew of issues for law enforcement. The primary concern was how to convert protocols and application payloads into human readable form. However, even once it was readable, the raw data still needed to be transformed into intelligence. This necessitated a specialized skill set, unique from those required for telephony. As a result, Internet data became its own separate investigative silo. In many agencies, data is still broken down into these two investigative silos, which obviously presents challenges.

LEA Data Challenges Today

Fast forward to today, where nearly every Internet application has a concept of contacts, sharing information, commentary, and real time communications via voice, video, or chat. All which create a significant amount of data.  Complicating things further is the widespread use of encryption in these apps, causing content to become inaccessible to investigators. This trend of information “going dark” forces investigators to file for warrants requesting stored business or communications records. However, because companies store information in the context of how the application or program is used, the resulting data rarely, if ever, aligns with investigative silos.

It has been said that we are now in the “fourth industrial revolution”. In terms of data, that means we have significantly increased both the volume and speed at which we generate and consume it. This industrial revolution is supported by quickly advancing communication infrastructures. From the faster fiber connections into our homes to new 5G networks, increased bandwidth and available speeds are dramatically boosting data volumes. Thereby increasing what analysts need to sort though and further exacerbating the investigative silo issue.

Location Data Example

As an example, let’s take a look at location data, which on its surface would appear to be in one investigative silo. Wiretaps and call detail records provide a subscriber’s locations for communication events. This telephony data created by the mobile device service provider may cover tens of thousands of square feet to tens of square miles in rural areas. However, license plate readers provide significantly more accurate location information associated with a vehicle passing by the reader, but they have their own data format.

Records from Internet applications can provide location information in major metro areas for a specific user. Additionally, internet records can even provide communication records that mention a specific place by name. However, those need to be translated to a location before they are useful for investigations. And while mobile advertising will provide very accurate location information, it is associated with an anonymized user.

Despite the data silo challenges, law enforcement agencies conduct cohesive investigations knowing there is the potential for delay and significant intelligence loss, when data must be processed independently.

Learn More

Data silo challenges can seem overwhelming for many LEA organizations, but they don’t have to be. SS8 is hosting a three-part educational series entitled, The Data Silo Dilemma for Law Enforcement.

Visit HERE to watch the first class, which outlines how silos are formed, the data value of each and improvements that can be made.

About SS8

SS8, a network intelligence company, provides solutions to help customers quickly identify, track, and investigate devices and subjects of interest. Headquartered in Silicon Valley with sales and support offices in the U.S. and UK, SS8 has deployments in more than 30 countries supporting networks with nearly 1 billion subscribers. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @SS8 or LinkedIn.

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