New Mexico State Police rolling out smartphone project

Law enforcement officers in New Mexico may soon be able to get important data — such as criminal histories and license plate registrations -- directly through smartphones.

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That's what the New Mexico State Police plan to start doing in the next few weeks with custom-designed iPhone and Android apps that provide secure access to local and federal databases ordinarily accessed through Windows-based computers.

"No data resides on the device, just in memory," says Darrell Graham, IT systems manager for the agency. "It's to read queries related to computer-aided dispatch."

The iPhone or Android smartphone is expected to be another option that state law enforcement on highway patrol might have to get quick access to information. What they use today are mobile laptop computers that use mobile VPN software designed by Columbitech to wirelessly gain access to databases via WiFi, wireless cellular or even satellite. Satellite, needed in remote terrain, can be expensive, and one reason the New Mexico State Police switched from previously-used VPN software to the Columbitech VPN in patrol cars within the last two years is because it offered better visibility and control over communications traffic.

But when the upgrade to a new backend Oracle database and application project got underway, the police agency seized the opportunity to see what it could do to move state law enforcement into the smartphone era, especially since the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has issued its first guidelines on how this should be done.

The state needs to be in compliance with the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) security policy, said Graham. This requires a number of things, such as using FIPS 140-2 encryption. The New Mexico State Police had Columbitech work with an app developer to create a customized VPN app for the iPhone and Android that anyone wanting to try to new method of smartphone access will have to use, Graham says.

The process to do this, which could soon be made available to all local, city and county law enforcement officers in the state, calls for adherence to a digital certificate-issuance procedure overseen by individuals trained to do this in a somewhat manual fashion to ensure only authorized individuals receive the smartphone VPN app.

The entire concept appears to put the State of New Mexico in the vanguard of secure smartphone use for law-enforcement purposes. Graham says the agency is fortunate to have been in the middle of a systems database upgrade and application-development project that lent itself to trying something new in this area. Depending on how it all works out, it may take the state's police agency into the 'Bring Your Own Device' trend as well.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security.

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