Ballmer: The cloud will bring new apps to law enforcement

The company is working on moving its child exploitation app to the cloud

A move to the cloud will enable new kinds of applications that public safety and law enforcement agencies can use to do their jobs better, Microsoft’s CEO said during its annual Worldwide Public Safety Symposium on Wednesday.

“It’s fantastically important,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at the event at the company’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters. “The cloud isn’t just about cost and efficiency but building a whole new generation of applications that will be far more able to get the job done than anything that would have been able to be built in yesterday’s model.”

Microsoft’s Child Exploitation Tracking System is an example of how moving applications to the cloud can advance an application. CETS is a software product that law enforcement officers use to search, share and analyze evidence in child exploitation cases across police agencies.

CETS is deployed in 10 countries including Canada and Spain. However, data in CETS is not shared across borders.

Microsoft is now working with Interpol to explore moving CETS to the cloud so that agencies in different countries can share data, Ballmer said. “If ever there was an application that would benefit from coming to the cloud so data could be shared by law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions, this is the app,” he said. Criminals involved in child exploitation typically work across borders, meaning law enforcement often loses track of perpetrators as they cross borders. “This highlights why a move to the cloud makes a difference,” Ballmer said.

While cloud-based applications may offer enhanced capabilities to public safety agencies, they don't come without issues. Robert Hayes, a former British intelligence agent who now works at Microsoft, said that many governmental agencies are now exploring the idea of moving apps to the cloud but are still examining privacy and security issues. Moving to the cloud can save money for many cash-strapped agencies, he noted. But they are studying policy issues that could restrict them from housing and storing data outside of the country.

For example, he said he has been exploring whether British agencies might find storing their data in Ireland, where Microsoft already has large data centers, acceptable. Hayes is a senior fellow at the Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments, a nine-person group that works closely with government agencies to make them aware of technology trends that can help them do their jobs better.

Ironically, some agencies are looking at ways to store data outside of the country in which they operate but still access that data in-country, he said. For instance, some organizations that work in Africa are investigating ways they might use mobile phones to access data that is strategically stored elsewhere due to security or stability issues that might make running a data center in the African country untenable, he said.

At the same time that Microsoft is moving apps to the cloud, it is further developing client devices that enable people to access those apps, Ballmer said. The devices should be easy to manage and use, so they should have more natural user interfaces like speech and touch. Biometric recognition should also be built into devices ranging from big screens to PCs to phones, Ballmer said.

“There are two colossal shifts, to the cloud and to more natural user interfaces,” Ballmer said.

The Worldwide Public Safety Symposium, attended by 400 people, runs Wednesday and Thursday. Speakers include Interpol’s president and high-ranking public safety officials from Brazil, Sweden, Poland, the U.S. and Germany.

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