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“This has been the most significant change in forensics and dealing with these cases that our folks have seen ever,” Jim Cole, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, says.
When five people drew up Project VIC in April 2012 on notebook paper at a bar, they didn’t realize how much video evidence the law enforcement collaboration would seize in child exploitation cases.
The massive amounts of data must be dealt with in an intelligent, efficient way. One partner organization, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children receives 500,000 images a week on average. Homeland Security Investigations, another partner agency, obtained almost 3 petabytes of data in 2015.
“It’s about changing law enforcement methodology to be more victim-centric through new technology like Griffeye Analyze DI and global collaboration,” HSI Special Agent Jim Cole told Route Fifty in an interview.
Before Project VIC, law enforcement tended to be offender-focused in child exploitation cases—failing to identify victims in seized evidence, he said. Gothenburg, Sweden-based intelligence company Griffeye, another of the project’s founding members, now distributes its Analyze DI platform to HSI’s 270 field offices globally for automating video analysis and reducing workloads.
HSI works closely with the 61 Internet Crimes Against Children task forces across the U.S.—most run by state and local law enforcement agencies, sometimes with one or two federal agents assigned. Washington state’s task force is managed by the Seattle Police Department, while Virginia has one run by state police and another by the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department.
Because child sex abuse cases lack federal jurisdiction unless they’re online or cross state lines, NCMEC farms cyber tips out to the task forces. They, in turn, request resources they don’t have from HSI like video and audio analytics.
“Few tools deal with video from all these different sources,” said Johann Hofmann, Griffeye’s director. “Not one tool took it all, processed it and prioritized it for investigators in way where they could do something smart with all the data, and it took us a year and a half to solve the puzzle.”
Oftentimes, the feds don’t know who their suspect is until they execute a search warrant, and if it turns out to be a teen self-producing or abusing another minor, those cases stay with the state. When sexual abuse is found in a federal case, state and local child protective services are brought in, and joint prosecution may occur.
There’s been a direct causal effect in how many victims HSI is finding and rescuing because of Project VIC, Cole said. He beta tests technology from partner vendors like Griffeye and has worked with them for the past year on their 16.1 version of Analyze DI.
“This has been the most significant change in forensics and dealing with these cases that our folks have seen ever,” Cole said.
Analyze DI applies more analytics to video than before and reduced HSI’s nine-month forensic backlog to three weeks. The 16.1 version of the software can filter out video where no motion or audio occurs, and scene sensitivity can be adjusted to capture only those frames where a high enough percentage of change occurs to prioritize information in hours-long movies for investigators.
Griffeye’s latest version also facilitates use cases outside of child exploitation involving data related to gangs, organized crime and even fraud. The company opened up its API to tech outside of what it’s building internally to integrate other tools from law enforcement and academia research and development.
“If some agency has a really good algorithm for processing, say, audio like language or gunshot detection, it can produce plugins that attach to the program,” Hofmann said. “That tech can quickly classify video based on the algorithm.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.
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