In recent months, Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, developed the ‘decryption platform’ – an important tool to support the fight against serious and organised crime.
The platform can help police gain access to encrypted stored evidence in the context of criminal investigations to catch criminals and protect victims of crime, in full respect of fundamental rights and without limiting or weakening encryption.
In the process of criminal investigations in the EU, national police forces are increasingly being met with the challenge of obtaining materials that may contain vital digital evidence, but are encrypted, such as password protected hard drives.
With the decryption platform, police can now send these lawfully obtained materials to Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, which operates the platform, to be decrypted. If successful, this can potentially give law enforcement access to essential information to solve cases on child sexual abuse, terrorism or serious and organised crime.
The decryption platform is the latest of several scientific innovations supporting all stages of criminal investigations: from identifying victims and perpetrators of crime, to tracking down and bringing criminals to justice.
At its site in Ispra, Italy, the JRC’s digital forensic and cybersecurity experts are working at the cutting edge of these innovations.Fighting human trafficking with advanced biometrics
Between 2017 and 2018, there were over 14,000 victims of trafficking in the EU. Children accounted for 22% of these victims.
One tool that law enforcement has to combat human trafficking is the EU’s Schengen Information System (SIS) and its biometric database on missing persons, supported by the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
Launched in 2018, AFIS allows law enforcement to better identify people through their fingerprints, making it more difficult for anyone to enter and move in the EU using false documents. It also makes it more difficult for criminals to traffic people across borders undetected.
One technical difficulty of using fingerprint data is that people’s fingerprints grow and change over time. This is especially true for young children. Understanding how this growth happens and how identification should adapt is vital in ensuring that AFIS is effective.
The JRC has been exploring this challenge for several years, recently developing a ‘growth model’ that can be applied to fingerprint data to account for ageing. Using the model, children can still be identified, even if their last known fingerprints are from several years in the past.
The traditional, two-dimensional method for taking a fingerprint also presents a challenge to the accuracy of fingerprint data. Fingerprints captured can vary depending on the pressure exerted and the part of the finger that is captured, which, in a worst case scenario, could risk misidentification.
To address this issue, JRC scientists are currently developing a touchless, 3D fingerprint recognition system using laser-sensing technology, called FLARE. FLARE is an innovative way of digitally capturing people’s unique fingerprint in a more representative manner.Improving the accuracy of biometric technologies
The 2018 reform of the SIS strengthened the role of biometric technologies, such as facial recognition, while also introducing stronger data protection rules.
Facial recognition has considerable potential to support law enforcement to capture criminals, and offer greater protection for missing children and vulnerable adults.
At the same time, these technologies must be reliable and used proportionally; in the EU they are subject to strict safeguards in order to protect people’s fundamental rights of privacy.
In order to enhance this protection and reinforce the effectiveness of these technologies, it is of paramount importance that they are scientifically robust enough to return consistent, reliable results.
JRC scientists have carried out extensive research in this area. They provide a list of recommendations, from measures to ensure the highest possible quality of the stored data, to the optimal architecture of the databases. When followed, these recommendations should significantly boost the performance of facial recognition matching systems.Background
The JRC is developing new and innovative digital technologies to support the European Agenda on Security’s priority to disrupt organised crime and tackle terrorism, in full compliance with EU fundamental rights.
JRC scientists support the European Commission’s department for migration and home affairs in the process towards the successful integration and use of fingermarks in the SIS and the feasibility assessment for a prototype of a common and interoperable interface for the annotation of fingermarks.
These and similar research efforts on biometrics will directly contribute to the enhancement of EU law enforcement large scale IT systems, including SIS, the Visa Information system (VIS) and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS).