Catching Criminals With the World Wide Web

New linking software from a well-known criminal intelligence company may help agents solve cases

Orion Scientific Systems, Irvine, Calif., has spent 20 years building criminal intelligence databases that help state, local and federal governments find missing children, determine organized crime relationships and track drug traffickers.

Now Orion, a privately held company which last year had $12 million in revenues, has put that information on the World Wide Web, so government officials can more easily and readily access the databases.

While much of the data is public, certain information will be privileged as Orion creates Web intranets that only law enforcement officials can access. Such intranets could permit access to confidential data such as a mob boss' phone calls to a politician.

To help users more easily find data, Orion's software, called Netleads, performs something called "link analysis," which draws information from the database and shows relationships, such as the associates of a known criminal. It helps law enforcement narrow down to one suspect or close a case.

Because it works on the Web, information can constantly be updated, which means new versions are continuously created, said James McClave, executive vice president of Orion's East Coast Operations in McLean, Va. "The Internet-based approach delivers an analytical tool with no life-cycle maintenance," he said.

Users can also link to Reuters and Associated Press data feeds to do research. A search request, for example, could read "IRA bomb."

Beyond criminal investigations, customs violations and terrorism, Netleads software can be used for corporate competitive analysis and at special events, such as the Olympics.

Netleads, which uses a Netscape Navigator Web browser, costs $45,000 for 20 computer terminal hookups. Orion also charges a 10 percent annual maintenance fee.

Although Orion still offers similar analysis that isn't Internet-based, McClave estimates the older version has only three more years of life left. That's because when using the Web product, people in different regional offices can all access the same information. "You don't have to provide any coordination," said McClave. "It gives the same analytical tools to a geographically disparate set of people."

Lt. Rick Nash in the Riverside, Calif., County Sheriff's department just started using Netleads. Nash's division has long supported anti-narcotic task forces in other parts of the state by offering use of the unit's criminal intelligence databases. In some cases, Nash's people do research and analysis themselves for other units.

The Netleads program, however, is hoped to let Nash's division off the hook a bit by giving intranet access to other law enforcement agencies.

"It takes the load off us," said Nash. "Others can access the information through a secure intranet and can generate their own reports," he said.

Orion is betting law enforcement will also like the fact that such research can be done faster if field officers, investigators and even crime scene police can all get information anywhere at any time.

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