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Thoughts on the benefits of cross-country cooperation and communication

I have the chance of contributing to an exciting project at the moment that involves cross-country cooperation and communication. The project is aiming to develop, test, validate, distribute and maintain software tools in the fields of cybercrime investigation and digital forensics. As one of the outputs of the projects these tools will then be provided free of charge to law enforcement agencies around the world. But the project is not the reason for this blog post; the real reason is an observation that I made during this project.

Exchanging ideas and experiences with other international colleagues it was interesting to see how the need for software tools performing certain tasks was very similar despite the fact that the participants were coming from different countries. However during the discussions I had with the other project partners we discovered that there exist several examples for specific, custom-made software that has the same purpose but was developed independently by different countries. That means that some countries invested manpower and in some cases high budgets to external companies although a solution for their problem already existed.

So I asked myself two questions: First: How this could happen? and Second. How can this be avoided in the future?

The answer to the first question is difficult because it is not possible to reconstruct the entire process of how the tool was developed. The most likely answer is that the countries that wasted their resources either did not know that another very similar tool already exists or that the existing tool did not meet their requirements exactly. The third possible answer could be that each country wanted to develop "their own" tool, giving them the freedom to customise the software whenever needed along with the copyrights and intellectual property rights. A last reason why one organization might have developed their own tool although an alternative has already been available might be that the other tools that existed were proprietary, license based and/or too expensive to buy. There are valid arguments in favor and against all of these circumstances but I wanted thought that there might be things that we can learn about all these solutions.

The lessons that might be learned - to answer the second question - is that it needs more projects encouraging international cooperation on tool development and distribution amongs non-profit law enforcement organizations. Why? Because with the right approach duplicate work can be minimized, tools can be provided free of charge and the source code of the tools can be made available and thus the tools become customizable for all law enforcement agencies. If the project is equipped with sufficient funding even multi-language support, tool manuals and training can be developed. This approach could really solve most of the circumstances that I just described. The downpoint of course is that such projects need funding so a larger investment is necessary but I think in total it can save a lot of resources of terms of law enforcement agencies personnel, budgets and time.

Any thoughts, comments, ideas?

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Jean-Christophe LE TOQUIN
Comment by Jean-Christophe Le Toquin on May 30, 2013 at 12:01pm

I think the duplication of efforts is a result of the simple fact that people come from different background, different cultures and it is very difficult to come together and share efforts and intelligence. This is made even more complicated by the fact that we are in a constantly changing environment, and each of us are changing constantly as we get older and more experienced.

Your project sounds very well intentioned and useful, but how long will it last ? The future of your project is probably unpredictable, very much like any local project.

A local project has a major advantage : it gives power and influence to the local decision maker.

Giving free tools to police investigators is a great thing to do. But your project should not forget about the head of units, and their need for power and recognition. Whether they like it or not, managers have to fight to get more people, more budget, more power. If they don't do that, they become irrelevant.

My guess is that you pitch the value of your free tools in this way :

"I am going to give you free tools, and this will be wonderful because this will help you do your job at not cost"

You may consider saying :

"I am going to give you tools which will help you and your team become more efficient and influent in your organisation."

By providing free tools, you may hinder the capacity of the heads of unit to succeed in their career and to make their unit successful.

It's a paradox, and I know this is the opposite of what you try to achieve, but this paradox may explain the situation you have described.
Posted on 3/3/15 3:15 PM.
Comment by Victor Voelzow on May 30, 2013 at 10:00pm

Dear Jean-Christophe,

thank you for sharing your view on this topic. I can understand your point and I think it is a valid argument. "Fighting" for more people, equipment and budget is something that probably most of the cybercrime units are struggling with.

I would like to point out three things that might dissolve some misunderstanding.

Firstly, the project I was talking about is a European project, involving tool developers from all over Europe and it is being funded by the European Commission. In this context the tool developers were exchanging their experiences and found out that some of them created tools and spent research on the exact same issues and in some cases units spent quite some budgets for tools that fulfill the same task as tools that have been developed by LE agencies from another country.

Secondly, the aim of the project is not to hinder the capacities of cybercrime units. The opposite is the case. It wants to facilitate the global fight against cybercrime. In my opinion this project might also help managers to make their units more successful and to help them in situations where budgets are limited. One of the tools that is under development has already helped other forensic units to significantly reduce their backlogs, so why not provide it to other units as well? Another tool will offer a broad range of functionality that could save some hundred EUR per license for commercial products. Other tools introduce new concepts and functionalities allowing law enforcement officers to capture and analyse more digital evidence. This is the kind of output that is expected from a project like this.

Thirdly, especially cybercrime units from countries that cannot afford to spend thousands of EUR per year on commercial forensic products might like to have access to a repository of free tools that might strengthen their fight against cybercrime.

So if there has been any room for misunderstanding I hope I could explain my point of view a bit better.
Posted on 3/3/15 3:16 PM in reply to Jean-christophe LE TOQUIN.
Jean-Christophe LE TOQUIN
Comment by Jean-Christophe Le Toquin on May 30, 2013 at 10:26pm

Dear Victor,

You were very clear, and I have no doubt on the positive objectives of your project.

On my side, let me clarify that I was not trying to say that commercial software products are a better option.

What I was suggesting is that if you want to avoid duplication of efforts in the future, you should not only look at the immediate operational problems your tools will be solving and the license fees you will help save, but you should also ensure that your project will help the heads of unit to become more relevant with their top management (let's say the cabinet of Ministry of Interior).
Posted on 3/3/15 3:17 PM in reply to Victor VOELZOW.
Comment by Victor Voelzow on June 3, 2013 at 2:04pm

Dear Jean-Christophe,

I think I got your point now. Of course the need for tools on the investigators level and the management level differ. While the former might need software tools to aid their operational needs, the latter need tools to promote their topic and thus their unit. I strongly agree that it can be a quite challenging task to raise awareness and fight for resources.

You made a very good point there. I will discuss that amongst the other participants of the project group, although it might be out of the original scope of this particular project. Do you have a concrete idea of how such a help for the heads of unit should look like?
Posted on 3/3/15 3:17 PM in reply to Jean-christophe LE TOQUIN.
Jean-Christophe LE TOQUIN
Comment by Jean-Christophe Le Toquin on June 3, 2013 at 3:44pm

if I was in charge of your project, I would require one to one discussions, face to face, with some key heads of unit.

I would ask them some questions such as:

- Do you know the free tools that we provide to your team?

- Do you find these tools useful to your team? If not, why?

- Do you trust these tools ? If not, why?

- Do you reward your staff when they use this tool? Do you reward those who train their colleagues on these tools?

- Do you talk about these tools to heads of other units ? If not, why?

- Do you talk about these tools to your own management (cabinet of Minister of Interior) ? If not, why?

Whatever the head of unit answers to these questions, even if he does not answer at all and look only bored, you will learn a lot about how project is perceived. The more excited the head of unit will be, the less risks of duplication of effort your project will face.
Posted on 3/3/15 3:17 PM in reply to Victor VOELZOW.
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