How digital intelligence is modernizing sex offender management programs in the UK

Being able to quickly analyze mobile devices used by sexual offenders is a big challenge

By Alon Klomek

While much has been written about the problems corrections facilities face regarding overcrowding, security and problems caused by contraband digital devices, it is important to also address prisoner re-entry programs. This problem is particularly challenging when those being paroled are sex offenders.

Communities want to be safeguarded and assured that individuals previously convicted of sexual offenses don’t commit similar acts again. As pilot programs in the United Kingdom are proving, digital intelligence (data extracted from digital sources and data types such as smartphones, computers and the cloud, and the process by which agencies access, manage and leverage data to more efficiently run their operations) can be used to monitor prior offenders through their electronic devices.

The most important devices to check are offender’s phones.
The most important devices to check are offender’s phones. (PIxabay)

Two men working on the cutting edge of this technology are Andrew Martin and Tom Blumenthal. Andrew is a pre-sales manager for Cellebrite in the UK. Prior to joining Cellebrite in 2018, he worked in a Counterterrorism Policing Unit in the UK for 10 years. Tom is a senior solutions expert with nine years at Cellebrite. He started out in the research department, reverse engineering mobile security exploits, before moving into sales. Both men have been deeply engaged in offender management and Public Protection Units (PPUs) while working with the prison services in the UK.

Here’s what they had to say about the latest technology, which is providing a new solution for offender management.

Not all releases are monitored

Under UK law, whether a parolee is monitored or not depends on the severity of their offenses. Prisoners are released under a licensing agreement. These terms are not optional. Prisoners must agree to abide by them in order to be released and they are strictly enforced.

To lessen the impact on UK police, the monitoring of released prisoners is handled by the Criminal Justice System. This governmental department monitors the licensing conditions under which criminals are released. Licensing terms can cover a host of items; each tailored to the individual and their offense. In some circumstances, prior offenders may have restrictions imposed on what kind of digital devices they can use or what kinds of digital activities they can participate in.

If they’ve been convicted of an online sexual offense – grooming, stalking, or harassing someone – there will definitely be strict limitations within their remittance agreement that spell out what kind of digital control will be maintained.

As Andrew explained, monitoring can take many forms. “It may be an electronic tag. It may be monitoring of equipment [phones, computers, tablets]. It may be access restrictions on an address. It’s entirely down to what offense has been committed.”

External monitoring

One of the solutions being used to monitor offender’s devices externally is a software called “eSafe.” As Andrew explained, eSafe allows an external third party to monitor a number. “It could be any number,” he began, “just a reference number. And they can see if there’s an infringement on that [number]. And eSafe can entail computer monitoring, tagging, [or] it can be device monitoring.”

When there is an alert against the reference number, the third-party company that handles the monitoring informs the local police force that “Reference number 3-Alpha” has gone against the terms of their release. They would then go and conduct a home visit to gather more information.

Internal monitoring using DI

Offender Management Units, which are scattered throughout the UK and fall under the broader umbrella of the PPU, deal directly with those who have served time for offenses ranging from rape to other sexual offenses including grooming.

While PPUs have been monitoring computers through tags that restrict access, these are monitored externally by independent auditors who are separate from the police force.

The need to quickly analyze mobile devices used by sexual offenders to ensure they are not being used in violation of the offender’s release agreement was the bigger challenge.

As Andrew explained, “Part of the licensing remit is that they [offenders] must acknowledge home visits. They can be planned or unplanned, but they cannot refuse access to the Offender Management Unit to come in and conduct a check. That check can be of varying degrees, depending on the risk and threat level of the person they’re intending to see.”

The most important devices to check, obviously, are offender’s phones, but until now, PPUs did not have a digital solution that would allow them to check out an offender’s mobile device on-site. In essence, what was needed was a mobile setup that would allow monitoring personnel to visit an offender’s home, plug in the offender’s phone, and do a quick check to see where they’ve been on the Internet, who they’ve been talking to or messaging with, what apps they’ve been using, and most importantly, what data (if any) has been recently deleted that might violate the terms of their parole.

A smart field solution

The answer to this need was the recent development of ruggedized laptops loaded with the latest phone extraction technology. These field-technology units are also equipped with powerful data analytics software that allows PPU personnel to surface insights they would otherwise need to dig for manually, which is both impractical and time-consuming.

By using these new portable field-technology units, PPU personnel can now turn up at an offender’s home and obtain an extraction at multiple levels. It can either be a physical extraction, which is a full bit-for-bit extraction of the device; a file-system extraction; or a logical extraction, which is just the normal user data you would see on a device itself.

“The fact that they’re getting that data on the scene is enabling them to conduct much more detailed risk and threat assessments for the person that they are with at the time,” Andrew explained. “So rather than removing the person’s mobile phone, which would have been a previous practice, and taking it to the lab, waiting for the whole lab process to run through to find out that actually, the person in the house is a high-risk offender, they can now make that assessment on scene at the time of the interview.”

Those interviewing paroled offenders are able to actually see data in real-time analytics software (powered by AI) that pulls different pieces of information together – right in the person’s kitchen. If they find the person has violated their parole agreement, they can arrest them right there on the spot, but as Andrew explained, “Their ultimate aim is to establish risk threat and offense, one way or the other, or innocence.”

“So they are not collecting the data for evidence, in this case,” Tom added. “They are only, as Andy said, doing the risk assessment and finding the offense. But they don’t save any of the data. So if they do find anything and the person is arrested, the device will need to be downloaded again in the forensic lab.” This ensures that the chain of custody remains inviolate.

Having PPU personnel visit offenders in their homes with this new field-solution technology is also providing a huge deterrent. As Tom explained, “The fact that they are able to come in with this advanced piece of equipment and do this analysis in front of the parolee, and the person can see the capabilities that they have, obviously has an effect.”

Cellebrite Pathfinder quickly assembles all of the connections between the suspect and those that they have been in close contact with to begin building valuable timelines in cases.
Cellebrite Pathfinder quickly assembles all of the connections between the suspect and those that they have been in close contact with to begin building valuable timelines in cases. (Cellebrite)

Fully auditable

Any time these units are used in the field, recorded data is fed back to the agency via new central-dashboard technology, so managers have control over what their staff’s capabilities are in the field. This technology also provides a complete audit of the information. As Andrew pointed out, “If Person A says his phone was downloaded on a specific day, they have a record of exactly who did it and what they did on that day in terms of the extraction. So the full audit chain – which is paramount to preserving forensic data in the UK – is there.”

Expanding responder’s role

While these new field solutions were originally designed for monitoring sex offenders via their digital devices, the technology has far broader applications. “We designed it for an Offender Management Unit officer conducting a home visit,” Tom said, “but it’s just as effective for a county lines drug unit that’s kicking in a door and seizing devices at a crime scene.”

Incorporating cloud analytics technology into these field-solution units would also provide an easy way to monitor social networks and online accounts – information that’s not only relevant to monitoring sex offenders but investigations in the broader law enforcement community that require quick access to cloud-based data at a crime scene.

No matter what the offense, there is no iron-clad guarantee that parolees won’t commit the same crimes again, but with new field-solution technology, being able to monitor their digital activities provides a powerful tool for those on the front lines to keep communities safe.

About the author

Alon Klomek has over 23 years of global business management, sales, business operation, and leadership experience. He currently leads Cellebrite’s global business activity worldwide and brings extensive expertise in Government (B2G), Telco, banking, security technology, information systems, and sales management from various regions including the Americas, EMEA, and Asia.

Prior to becoming Chief Business Officer, Alon was International General Manager at Cellebrite, CEO at eXaudios voice analytics start-up, various sales management positions at NICE Systems, and VP PMI following NICE-Actimize acquisition.

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