Updated: Aug 6, 2021
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When people think of law enforcement public records databases, it isn’t uncommon to imagine what Hollywood cinema and television often depict as multi-monitor displays crunching AI-powered facial recognition and fingerprint algorithms, terminals scrolling an ocean of code down the screen, or high-tech maps drawing lines that connect suspects to places and events, complete with dossiers on the targets, associates, and the flow of illicit monies. How much of this is fact, and how much is fiction?
The truth is, public records databases law enforcement agencies use have become a vital resource in closing cases faster. These tools aren’t only used to try to obtain an upper hand in apprehending criminals. Their purpose is to allow law enforcement agents actively prevent further crimes, saving the precious lives of citizens. By stitching together obscure tidbits of information pulled both manually and automatically from a variety of public and confidential resources, they can cross-link information and close cases quicker. Tools like this also help to reduce the number of agents it often takes to solve cases, saving time and expenditures.
These databases fascinated me, so I familiarized myself with many of these intrastate communication databases and studied what protocols they used, their purpose, and how they are accessed. They operated as nexus points for inter-agency communications between various local, state, and federal database systems. To name a few, there is the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (TLETS), Bureau of Prisons Network (BOPNet), and the Legal Information Office Network System, (LIONS), which is a prosecutorial case management system.
Courtesy of Mr. Snowden, you might have also heard of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the tool used by the National Security Agency (NSA) called PRISM, which collects, monitors, and analyzes metadata under a secret court order in an effort to uncover and foil terror plots.
A Public Records Mapping Database That Connects The Dots
While the databases mentioned are commonplace among various agencies, there exists a powerful law enforcement tool called Accurint For Law Enforcement (Accurint LE) that uses data mining technology to build reports. It is widely popular among law enforcement and government agencies because it serves as an exceedingly exhaustive public records research tool, able to connect information together by pulling data from a variety of databases used by diverse government and commercially available data resources and converging the information into a single, massive, centralized pool.
When time is of the essence to solve cases and the public’s tax dollars are being put to the flame the longer that takes to solve them, powerful informational resources become vital components in solving a multitude of complications that follow lengthy investigations.
The Accurint LE database is a provision by the data broker LexisNexis. It features robust information tracking and people-mapping capabilities, revealing connections between people and relationships, businesses and associates, as well as assets and a whole host of other vital information that may exist only in fragments across various public sources. What this means is that Accurint is able to piece fragments together to help form a much more comprehensive picture of whatever is the focus of an investigation.
LexisNexis, the data broker who owns the rights to Accurint LE, is another familiar name among every component within the legal arena. They are publicly owned and have functioned as a legal, regulatory, business, and analytics information entity since the 1970s.
They describe Accurint LE as “a cutting-edge investigative technology that can expedite the identification of people and their assets, addresses, relatives and business associates by providing instant access to a comprehensive database of public records that would ordinarily take days to collect.”
According to LexisNexis, it assists 70% of local agencies and almost 80% of federal agencies to safeguard citizens and reduce financial losses due to fraud and abuse.
The database contains a whopping 84 billion public records on 283 million unique identities, which amounts to an average of around 290 records per identity. Millions of reports are sold annually to a variety of public and private sector entities, such as insurance companies, banks, collection agencies, and so forth.
Additionally, the data it collects is public-friendly. Certain components provided within the Accurint database can also be purchased by everyday individuals who may want to learn what is contained within their own Accurint report, in what is called the Accurint Individal Access Program, a service that is accessible to anyone, as long as they provide the criteria to establish their identity.
This doesn’t mean every person who requests the information from the database has a “dossier.” Instead, the information can be extracted from different records databases and compiled into a report, which is actually less intrusive when compared to the fact of every unique identity in the United States being already profiled, databased, and accessible by everyone other than the subject individual.
When it comes to tools that help law enforcement locate people, names and residence history alone cannot satisfy the burden weighing on an investigation, especially when you factor in the complex components often involved in, say, attempting to track down a kidnapping suspect and rescue the victim unharmed.
It is important to note that bringing criminals to justice does not encompass the entire scope of the purpose law enforcement serves, even though apprehending guilty parties helps to restore a semblance of balance disrupted by the impact crimes cause on society. The pursuit of justice also serves the interest of the individual people affected by the crimes committed, bringing closure and peace of mind to many.
Imagine another quite common scenario where investigators are tasked with tracking down an individual who fled from the scene of vehicular homicide with minimal information to go on because the suspect has effectively disappeared and his whereabouts are unknown.
While a photo scanned license plate taken by a traffic camera can lead investigators to the name and address on file of the suspect responsible, what if the suspect didn’t return home after the scene of the crime? Accurint LE can provide motor vehicles registration information such as a history of registered vehicles that were owned by the suspect, firearm registration, criminal history, financial behaviors, a residency history, and a detailed information tree connecting these data points with various relationships, both work-related and personal, each providing a possible lead in order to wrap up the investigation decisively.
In other words, each small detail provided in such a report is able to shed insights that provide tangible leads, narrowing down the search that might've taken weeks if performed manually, not to mention useful contextual data. For example, if the suspect has a violent criminal history and owned a registered firearm in the past, it is likely the police will need to approach this suspect with extreme caution.
Finally, employers browsing social media profiles held by company employees have become commonplace. Similarly, Accurint LE has investigative intelligence functions that allow for the monitoring of social media, empowering agencies to uncover threats to public safety through an enhanced intelligence medium that is able to provide actionable insights.
Tools like this do not supplant or replace common investigative techniques, like knock and talks. As the nature of information is fluid, each phase of the investigative process still requires independent verification from the individual officer leading the chase. For example, criminal records may be expunged, become sealed, or sometimes become inaccessible to members of the public since the time the data was last collected. Sometimes people change names, switch careers, or move residences.
For this reason, the relationship between high-tech records gathering and good old-fashioned investigative work remains close to this day, as one cannot accurately function efficiently without the other. When it comes to serving justice, the accuracy of information leads to truth, and truthfulness is the fidelity the public relies upon when the course of justice is attempting to restore a disruption of the social balance.
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