Project VIC: Finding Strength in Information Sharing
By: Rich Brown, Law Enforcement and Technology Liaison, ICMEC
As the Law Enforcement and Technology Liaison at the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), I am proud to be one of the driving forces behind Project VIC. Coordinated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICMEC, Project VIC is working to create an ecosystem of information and data sharing between domestic and international law enforcement agencies. Through information sharing, our ultimate goal is to identify more victims of exploitation, faster.
After spending 25 years in the New Jersey State Police, I’m familiar with the value that information sharing can bring to an investigation – whether it’s within a single agency, a country or globally. However, in reality, information that is valuable to multiple groups often isn’t shared – meaning efforts tend to be duplicated and forensic investigators aren’t empowered to do their best work. At Project VIC, we have created a resource to help break through some of these barriers by providing investigators with the tools necessary to share information seamlessly. By bringing together “Class A” technologies like Griffeye Analyze, and creating an open standard, siloes are removed and individual platforms are able to communicate.
Increasing data flow by removing barriers
The first step we took at Project VIC was gathering all existing online child abuse images into a single repository. Each image, whether still or video, has a unique identifier known as a “hash value.” Then, with our “image hash cloud,” investigators around the world can download the master lists which contain the identifiers of highly vetted, known images of child sexual exploitation. Law enforcement personnel can also expand the database by uploading new hashes they have seized.
Since the creation of our image hash cloud, we have built up a library of over 5 million unique images – both still photos and video. When a suspect’s hard drive is seized, on average, 85 percent of the images are typically already in Project VIC’s database – meaning law enforcement can focus on identifying the remaining 15 percent without having to manually sort through all of the data.
Project VIC has also standardized the law enforcement data by introducing the Video Image Classification Standard (VICS). VICS is an information sharing standard based on ODATA designed to transfer case and media records between tools and law enforcement databases, making it easy for any developer to become VICS compliant and have their tools ready to participate in a VICS ecosystem. Ultimately, this means law enforcement agencies can share and analyze information better, and use the best tools available, not just one that happens to work with another.
Through careful collection and processing of images, I am proud to say that we have so far helped law enforcement agencies identify more than 250 victims and 125 perpetrators. And, as we expand our program and more investigators use our tools, we expect to see this number grow substantially.