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‘Law and Technology’ edition: From the Editor

In 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States solved a 30-year-old murder case with the help of its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)—which then housed the records of approximately 73 million criminal subjects.

The victim, 61-year-old Carroll Bonnet, had been stabbed to death in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1978. The crime scene evidence was processed and latent prints recovered from the scene matched against fingerprint files but no corresponding fingerprints were found. The IAFIS did not exist at the time. So the case went cold.

The case was officially reopened in 2008. This time latent prints were searched against the IAFIS. In less than five hours, the system returned a list of suspects and after a few days of work, the investigators came up with a positive identification. This is the power of technology.

In Pakistan’s context, as part of police reforms in the Punjab province, a number of technology-based initiatives undertaken by the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) in the last couple of years have now started delivering results.

One of these is the establishment of a Criminal Record Office (CRO). Within a short span of time, the record of nearly 300,000 people with criminal history has been entered in the CRO database along with their complete profiles. Today, police in Punjab have been equipped with handheld biometric devices that are integrated with the CRO database. Over 652,000 requests have already been generated, helping the police catch habitual offenders and control crime rate.

In his article on these technology-based reforms, Jawwad Rizvi points out that dozens of people with criminal history have been caught on identification of their fingerprints using the CRO database. Also, an initiative enabling the police to cross-check particulars of those checking in and out at hotels across the province allowed it to track down around 450 suspects between August and September last year.

To streamline the criminal justice system, plans are afoot to extend access to the CRO database to judges at the Lahore High Court (LHC). In the next phase, the use of the database will be extended to lower courts as well.

Another tech-powered initiative helping the Punjab police tighten the noose around criminals is the Tenants Registration System. Among others, a proclaimed offender facing more than 30 cases of banditry and robbery in Lahore had been arrested last year after his criminal history was revealed to the police when he rented a place to stay in Faisalabad.

There are other encouraging examples from crime investigations. Read the article by Shafiq Sharif to learn why the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) was appointed as a referee lab in the Ohio police shooting case. Also learn about the National Forensic Science Agency’s (NFSA) efforts to compile a databank of fingerprints and DNA records. The article presents a comprehensive review of the forensic sciences landscape in the country, highlighting both achievements and challenges.

In his Q+A with MIT Technology Review Pakistan, Dr. Haider Ashraf, the DIG Operations, Lahore, highlights how technology has helped the police improve coordination with other law enforcement agencies and traffic and rescue services. He states that the police response time has remarkably improved from 25 to 35 minutes to 7 to 9 minutes, with the use of technology.

The edition also includes a review of a project to automate record of cases at the LHC. The Case Flow Management System (CFMS) will enable stakeholders to track progress of their cases online. The system has recently gone into live testing. A multilingual telephone helpline (1134) has also been established allowing instant access to information to both lawyers and the litigant public.

Similar technology-based reforms in policing and criminal justice system are also underway in other provinces as well. Once implemented fully, these initiatives will enhance cross-provincial coordination among law enforcement agencies.

Happy reading!

Dr. Umar Saif, Editor in Chief

Umar Saif tweets @umarsaif

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