What is Role Based Access Control and How Does It Aid Law Enforcement?

Learn how role based access control help law enforcement agencies ensure secure digital evidence management to prevent tampering and unauthorized access.

Law enforcement agencies in the United States are tasked with the responsibility of effective evidence management of digital evidence. But in doing so, they face challenges in sharing this evidence with relevant stakeholders. Utilizing role based access control (RBAC) helps address this challenge.

Digital evidence obtained from surveillance cameras, dash cameras, and body-camera footage often contains highly sensitive information that should only be disclosed to authorized personnel.

But it's not just your local police department that sees this evidence. Sometimes, it's circulated with other federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Post 911, information sharing between law enforcement agencies has become critical, especially when it concerns digital data. Whether it's to apprehend perpetrators in overlapping jurisdictions or protect national security interests at large, data sharing is not only useful but, oftentimes, mandated

With all this sharing, there's a catch. Not everyone in the local, state, or federal departments should have access to such sensitive information. It needs to be restricted and limited to only specific personnel within such agencies.

Law enforcement departments are composed of investigators, intelligence agents, analysts, and evidence custodians who could come across this information. However, this information can only be shared with those that have the appropriate security clearance or ‘need to know’ and ‘need to share’ basis.

Not everyone needs the same level of access to digital evidence and sensitive case information. Investigators chase leads, analysts decipher patterns, and intel agents paint the big picture. Everyone has a role they need to fulfill.

Unauthorized access to information and leaked data exposes informants, stalls and hampers investigations, and can even unleash national security nightmares. Imagine compromised leads for an ongoing investigation, informants facing retribution, or classified documents slipping through the cracks.

All of that brings us to the problem of having an efficient way to share information while also ensuring that it is restricted from being shared with unauthorized personnel. Whether inter-agency evidence sharing or with external agencies across the United States, the need for an effective solution is evident.

Luckily, there is a solution: an evidence management system with secure and precise Role-Based Access Control (RBAC). In this blog, we'll discuss what that is, how it works, and how it can help law enforcement share evidence with the right agencies.

What is Role Based Access Control in Evidence Management?

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is a method of controlling access to computer or network resources based on the roles of individual users within an organization or enterprise.

Think of it as a hierarchy of roles. For example, a patrol officer does not have the same level of responsibility and accessibility of information as the lead investigator for a case.

That's precisely what the function of Role Based Access Control (RBAC) is. It helps limit access to information to only authorized personnel.

In the context of evidence management, this means being able to view, create, or modify files in the evidence repository and carry out other management actions related to the evidence management software itself.

Operating without a proper RBAC mechanism can be particularly dangerous for law enforcement as unauthorized modifications can have severe consequences.

The Roles in a Typical Law Enforcement Agency

Law enforcement agencies come with diverse personnel working under different roles to accomplish the various duties required. And it's not just limited to the agency as a whole; there can also be a vast diversity within certain units or teams within an LEA.

These different job roles will generate and access information at each stage. But what really matters is the handover of that data. Without a secure mechanism dictating access and sharing, things may run chaotic.

Just as an example, let's look at what some roles may look like for a typical crime response unit for a local police department:

Telecommunicators: Telecommunicators are the personnel that connect directly with victims to get details of the crime. Think 911 operators or those on non-emergency police hotlines.

Their job is to obtain the name, location of the victim, nature of any injuries, and the time and location of the incident. They also collect information about the suspect, including their description, escape route, mode of travel, and details of whether they're armed.

Telecommunicators report to their on-duty supervisor with all the details obtained and stay on call with the victim until responding officers arrive at the scene.

Patrol Officers: Patrol officers respond to a dispatch call made as soon as possible. Their job is to take statements from those involved in a situation, secure the crime scene for evidence collection, and apprehend perpetrators.

They may also compile an on-scene report based on the brief details and facts obtained from victims, witnesses, and information from corroborating officers.

Investigators: Investigators arrive on scene shortly after and assume responsibility for the investigation. They will coordinate with all responding units to ensure that all investigative concerns are addressed.

The first step of an investigator's task is identifying that all relevant information is gained from patrol officers, supervisors, and other personnel before they are released from the scene.

They will also interview the victim by conducting an in-depth, videotaped interview, if feasible. If not already done, they will also obtain written statements from witnesses and the victim.

After the initial evidence and fact-finding measures, investigators will continue to work on the case by establishing suspects, following up with leads, scrutinizing evidence, and more. They may also reach out to other police departments or law enforcement agencies to collaborate with them.

Evidence Technicians: Evidence technicians will work with investigators to gather and document evidence on scene. Their tasks include, but are not limited to:

  • Diagramming the crime scene and taking photos of the scene and/or important evidence.
  • Documenting victim injuries and damage to property.
  • Coordinating the gathering and storage of evidence from the victim, suspect, and crime scene.

After collection, the evidence is properly handled for safe storage and documented to ensure a proper chain of custody.

The Need for Role Based Access Control in Law Enforcement

The evidence collected by law enforcement agencies is crucial in solving cases and putting criminals behind bars. Therefore, its security and confidentiality are paramount. And ensuring its access is restricted to only authorized people is of the utmost importance.

Without proper implementation of access controls, law enforcement agencies could deal with compromised evidence, data breaches, and erosion of confidentiality.

When that happens, agencies typically go into risk management stages, initiating measures to mitigate the fallout with a temporary lockdown of access to sensitive data, which can inadvertently impede collaboration efforts.

This streamlined access control also avoids unnecessary roadblocks. Officers aren't bogged down by permission requests; their focus is laser-sharp on specific duties like gathering evidence, analyzing it, or sharing it with collaborating agencies and non-agency collaborators. IT administrators breathe easier, knowing access is granted based on need, not guesswork. 

There are several more crucial reasons why law enforcement needs Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) for their agency. Here are a few:

Preventing Unauthorized Access: Giving an entire law enforcement agency blanket access to certain tools or systems is not always advisable. The level of access some personnel need will be different than others.

An evidence custodian is concerned with the collection, management, and preservation of evidence. However, they don't necessarily need to view or edit it. Similarly, an investigator needs to view and analyze the evidence, piecing together the case, but they shouldn't have access to edit administration-level security or user settings.

A notable example of this is the 2022 unauthorized access breach of the Law Enforcement Inquiry and Alerts (LEIA) system. Using stolen credentials, hackers were able to gain access to a portal that gave them unlimited access to a federated search that could access 16 different federal law enforcement databases.

Not only could these hackers view sensitive information about individuals in these law enforcement and intelligence agency databases, but they could also submit false records to them.

Having a robust, well-defined Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) here could have ensured that the damage was limited to only viewing the records and not modifying them or submitting falsified ones.

Facilitating Collaboration: Complex cases often require the attention of a large portion of a law enforcement agency. In some instances, personnel from different units or departments may find themselves pooling their information and resources to get the job done.

This is also true for inter-agency collaboration, where the walls between agencies dissolve, and information exchange becomes crucial. Think of a major crime ring spanning jurisdictions. Detectives from local PDs, federal agents, and state investigators all need a unified view of the evidence.

In such cases, RBAC can help meet the needs of different stakeholders without going beyond the scope of those needs. Say, for example, detectives working on a collaborative case can be granted temporary access to relevant data from different units. This helps maximize investigative efforts while maintaining security.

How does this look in practice?

The Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) is an international implementation of this. It helps more than 9,900 local, state, federal, and tribal law enforcement agencies in the US, Canada, England, and New Zealand get access to secure information sharing, investigative support, and officer safety services.

Secure Handling of Digital Evidence: Digital evidence can be sensitive, often more so than physical evidence. Threat actors for physical evidence can only exist in the physical vicinity, while cyberattacks are constant and can come from anywhere.

However, the sensitivity of digital evidence also leads to internal complications. Unauthorized personnel may inadvertently or intentionally interfere with critical processes, compromise leads, or compromise the confidentiality of sensitive operations, leading to potential failures in solving cases.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) highlights the fragility and volatility of digital evidence. It emphasizes that appropriate protocols must be followed to ensure digital evidence is not modified during handling. Access controls like RBAC help ensure that evidence stays within relevant personnel.

Maintaining Public Trust: Law enforcement agencies are composed of more than just officers, investigators, and case-specific stakeholders. Collaboration between sworn-in and civilian employees, contractors, subcontractors, and volunteers could also result in the sharing or access of digital evidence,

Without proper care and restrictions, unintended or unauthorized access could lead to the modification of digital evidence. Of course, this brings complications in evidence permissibility, legal repercussions, and wrongful convictions.

Public light of these issues will almost always result in the erosion of confidence in the justice system and can have severe consequences for law enforcement agencies.

Following Existing Procedural Guidelines and Compliances: With law enforcement agencies adopting more technological solutions, evidence custodians, IT administrators, and compliance officers have to ensure that their new systems adhere to constitutional, legislative, regulatory, judicial, and policy mandates.

For instance, the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Security Policy establishes mandatory security standards for state and local law enforcement agencies participating in the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Policy Area 5 of the CJIS Security Policy covers the area of access control and defines the need to implement account management, access enforcement, least privilege, system access control, and more.

RBAC is a key component of the CJIS Security Policy, requiring agencies to implement access controls to protect sensitive criminal justice data.

Moreover, a report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) discusses the procedures and guidelines for the proper use of digital technology to help out their operational duties. It highlights how law enforcement agencies should implement specific practices for data minimization, data retention, auditing, and accountability.

Role Based Access Control (RBAC) addresses these issues by segregating data access, restricting it to authorized personnel, and providing a framework to review access attempts.

Protecting the Privacy of Individuals: Digital evidence often contains personal information and the identity of individuals, like victims, informants, undercover agents, and witnesses. Unauthorized access could mean these identities are uncovered by someone who was not meant to access them.

But it’s not just that. Sharing digital evidence across departments, borders, and jurisdictions means that the data being shared will be subject to region-specific data protection laws and compliances.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) keeps that information and the privacy of those individuals intact as well as ensuring that the data sharing complies with regional laws.

Implementing Role Based Access Control within Law Enforcement Agencies

Implementing role based access control (RBAC) within a law enforcement agency goes beyond technicalities; it's a practical approach that blends technology, organizational structure, and security protocols.

Here are the steps that law enforcement agencies can take to implement role-based access control (RBAC):

Understanding Roles: For a law enforcement agency, the first step towards implementing RBAC is understanding roles. Different personnel in law enforcement need to carry out different duties and will need different roles.

The first step is figuring out what roles you have at your disposal and how they should apply to personnel like police officers, criminal investigators, evidence technicians, chief of police, analysts, and IT administrators.

Understanding the Scope of Access: Once the roles are defined, the next step is to understand the scope of access they provide. Each role provides a set of permissions that determine specific actions.

For instance, an evidence custodian may be assigned a role where they can add new evidence from a crime scene but can't modify or delete it. Similarly, the investigator might be assigned a role where they can view the evidence and share it with relevant stakeholders. Likewise, a compliance officer can ensure that the evidence is purged after its retention period is up.

Assigning Roles: After the roles are properly understood, they can be assigned to specific personnel who will get permissions based on the role assigned to them. This action is typically carried out by the IT administrator of the agency.

Specific access permissions for these roles will ensure that the custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of digital evidence are handled in a methodical way.

Monitoring and Review: Once proper role-based access control (RBAC) is established across the agency, compliance officers and IT administrators need to constantly review and revisit the system.

Monitoring the audit logs of access to digital evidence helps determine that the system aligns with the defined roles and access levels. If there are any changes or alterations to be made, they can be rolled out after a comprehensive review process.

Secure your Evidence from Unauthorized Access with VIDIZMO Digital Evidence Management System

VIDIZMO Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS), an IDC-recognized evidence management software, is essential for law enforcement agencies that need to implement a robust Role Based Access Control (RBAC) mechanism. It helps law enforcement agencies ensure the highest level of security and compliance for digital evidence storage and management.

With VIDIZMO DEMS, agencies can define specific actions such as evidence search, case management, evidence management, evidence downloading, evidence sharing, user and group management, viewing/downloading chain of custody reports, and more.

Law enforcement agencies can choose from a list of pre-configured roles to assign to their personnel with specific inherited permissions for evidence, portal, and system management. 

But that's not all. Coupled with a comprehensive RBAC system, VIDIZMO DEMS offers additional features to keep your digital evidence secure. These include:

Tamper Detection Mechanisms: Prevent your evidence from tampering by generating unique hashes of digital evidence, maintaining the integrity and credibility of digital evidence.

Password-Protected Evidence: Secure your evidence with passwords, limiting access to designated individuals.

Tokenized URLs for Secure Evidence Sharing: Share evidence through tokenized URLs, allowing only specific groups or users with assigned roles to access the evidence for a limited time.

Chain of Custody Management: Generate a comprehensive chain of custody report, recording all activities and changes made to the evidence file to present authentic evidence in court.

Deploy in a CJIS-Compliant Government Cloud: Deploy your evidence management portal in Azure or AWS government cloud data centers to comply with security policies like CJIS, GDPR, and HIPAA, ensuring evidence protection and integrity. 

Explore the extensive evidence security features of VIDIZMO's Digital Evidence Management System yourself. Or talk to one of our representatives, who will guide you through why your agency needs effective evidence management.

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Choose Secure Evidence Management and Access Today!

It's clear that role based access control works towards effective digital evidence management and minimization of unauthorized access.

It helps institute a secure and simplified workflow where IT administrators of a law enforcement agency can ensure that their personnel can be given safe access without needing constant monitoring. 

Similarly, officers, detectives, patrol officers, and other law enforcement personnel can carry out their duties without constantly requesting access or privileges, so they can work without bottlenecks. 

All in all, role-based access control can prove invaluable to law enforcement agencies and ensure the highest levels of security and compliance for their organization.

Ready to explore VIDIZMO Digital Evidence Management System and experience its capabilities firsthand? Sign up for a free seven-day trial today.

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People Also Ask

What is role based access control?

Role based access control (RBAC) protects sensitive data from improper access, modification, addition, or deletion. It allows employees access to the information required to fulfill their responsibilities. Access rights and permissions are given to employees based on their job roles and designations.

What principles does Role Based Access Control (RBAC) work under?

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) works on the principles of separation of responsibilities, least privilege, and abstraction of data to ensure a robust and secure access control framework. 

What are the components of RBAC?

RBAC is composed of five static elements: Users, roles, permissions, operations, and objects. The permissions are comprised of the operations applied to the objects.

What is the RBAC access control approach?

The RBAC access control approach is a method where access rights are assigned to roles, not individual users. Users are assigned roles, and through those roles, users acquire permissions to perform certain operations. It simplifies management and enhances security.

How do you use role based access control for evidence management?

Using role based access control for evidence management means to assign roles to evidence handlers, investigators, and other law enforcement personnel so the collection, storage, handling, and sharing or evidence stays within the defined scope.

Is RBAC for law enforcement required?

Yes. Under the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) policy, RBAC for law enforcement is necessary to satisfy the need to implement account management, access enforcement, least privilege, system access control, and more.

Posted by Rafay Muneer

Rafay is a Senior Product Marketing Strategist at VIDIZMO. He is driven to explore data protection and redaction solutions across various sectors. For any inquiries or assistance, feel free to get in touch at websales@vidizmo.com.

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