Ten-year project: Interpol renews its information systems

The international police organisation wants to turn a „data tsunami“ into „actionable intelligence“. The 12-year-old wording shows how outdated Interpol’s databases are. The modernization is led by the former German BKA vice-president. The German Ministry of the Interior is financing a considerable part of the new IT architecture.

In a „Policing Capability Enhancement Programme“ (I-CORE), Interpol intends to completely renew its information technology and improve the networking of existing data. The programme was unanimously approved by the 194 member states at the Interpol General Assembly in October 2019 in Santiago de Chile.

„I-CORE“ is to be implemented in several stages by 2030 and will cost the equivalent of around 80 million euros. Now the international police organisation based in Lyon is looking for sponsors for individual projects. Interpol has a very tight budget, which is financed by its members and has no room for modernizations like „I-CORE“.

Biometric data for „frontline“ police

Interpol has set seven targets for the upgrading of existing databases and the acquisition of digital technology: The top priority is the fight against terrorism and irregular migration, followed by general crime and security in cyberspace, the fight against corruption and human trafficking and environmental crime. In total, Interpol plans to implement 12 new projects, with a first phase covering three areas until 2022.

One of the priorities of „I-CORE“ is the improved use of biometric data for police and border control purposes. Interpol maintains a database of fingerprints of wanted criminals, and now faces can be stored and searched there. The information is now to be made available to police officers at the „frontline“. This refers to queries at identity checks, for which the officers must be equipped with mobile systems for taking fingerprints and facial images.

Unified information architecture

Interpol says it operates 18 databases, including those on searches with arrest warrants, but also on offences related to environmental, cyber or organised crime. In total, they are said to contain 100 million records, and police and other authorities worldwide conduct 4.6 billion searches per year (or almost 146 searches per second).

According to Interpol, these systems are not interconnected. In addition, many Member States use different data formats, making it difficult to process data centrally in Lyon. Interpol therefore intends to introduce a „Unified Information Architecture“ by 2022 with „I-CORE“. It should then be possible to query all databases with a single search function.

Dragnetting in „Big Data“

Interpol also intends to use new technology to access the information in the various databases. Applications for processing mass data („Big Data“) are to find new connections and thus provide investigative leads. This intelligent analysis of existing data sets has long been standard in Western countries. However, data protection often does not permit the comparison of different information systems with each other; laws must first be changed to allow this. Legally, Interpol is an association registered in France, which could facilitate a dragnet search in existing databases.

Although it is about digital modernisation, the project description of „I-CORE“ sounds dusty in many places. Interpol writes that the police all over the world are confronted with a „data tsunami“ that is to be transformed into a „valuable source of actionable intelligence“. This formulation was used 12 years ago by the EU interior ministers in a „Future Group“ which, after the German EU presidency in 2007, had given the starting signal for the renewal of EU police information systems and digital investigation methods.

Formerly well-connected BKA vice president

The digital retarded ignition at Interpol is probably due to its Secretary General Jürgen Stock, who has been in office since 2014. Before, Stock was Vice President of the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), where he also was responsible for the modernisation of information technology. Among the projects during his term of office were the Europe-wide networking of biometric databases and facial recognition tests. At EU level, Stock had a decisive influence on security research and had good contacts with European arms companies. As BKA Vice President, he was also a welcome guest at police trade fairs and conferences.

Today, the BKA still sets the tone for many IT projects in the European Union. The Wiesbaden-based authority has ensured the introduction of universal data formats and is involved in the EU „Interoperability“ project, which aims to comprehensively expand the exchange of information. The pilot projects also include the introduction of an EU-wide register for files from police investigations. The BKA’s database of facial images grows considerably every year, and the authority plans to procure a new facial recognition system before the end of the year.

Assistance from Germany

It is therefore quite conceivable that the BKA will provide its former deputy and current Interpol secretary general with assistance in the „I-CORE“ project. Many of the measures also show similarities to the EU „Interoperability“ project, such as the unified search engine for various databases or a „data silo“ for biometric information.

So it is not surprising that the German Federal Ministry of the Interior is also participating in the financing of „I-CORE“. The new equipment in the field of information technology will be supported with five million Euros in the first phase, after all, about one third of all costs incurred in this phase. The financing agreement was signed by Jürgen Stock and his successor, the current BKA Vice President Michael Kretschmer.

Image: Fingerprint data processed at Interpol (Interpol).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.