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Police Data in the Cloud

Author: Richard A. Falkenrath, Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Adjunct Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security
November 30, 2011


Police departments are, in certain respects, like any other modern enterprise. They are driven by information. Their demand for computer networks and the applications that run on them is constantly growing. And their budgets are tight. Hence their interest in a variety of different cloud computing services is understandable and will rise with time.

In other respects, however, police departments are not like other large enterprises, or even like other government agencies. Part of the difference is cultural. Starting from their first day at the police academy and proceeding though their entire careers, police officers live through experiences that simultaneously pull them together as a professional group and set them apart from the "civilians" they serve. The bonds between police officers are incredibly strong, and as a result they develop a culture that seems both insular and obstinate to outsiders.

But those differences also stem from the unique legal framework around the modern police department. Police departments are among the most tightly regulated entities in the United States. This aggressive oversight arises from the fact that police are uniquely entrusted with the power to use deadly force at their discretion; to invade the privacy of the citizenry in ways that would, outside of a lawful police process, offend virtually anyone's sensibilities; and to maintain vast databases of personal, private information that they must protect from unauthorized disclosure. The police are routinely subject to a level of outside scrutiny that ordinary citizens and civilian enterprises almost never experience.

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