Computer technology has progressed at a fast pace over the last 10 years. Technological advancements have brought the price of powerful portable computers easily within the reach of most budgets. The notebook computer used to write this article has more computing power than the computers that helped put the first man on the moon. According to a recent survey, 37 percent of all homes in the United States now have a computer, and law enforcement agencies are rapidly becoming computerized as well.

In the past, law enforcement agencies were slow to use technology. This was primarily due to limited government budgets and the lack of a clear-cut need to make changes to existing manual systems. Now, many law enforcement agencies have computerized, and the rest are rapidly moving in that direction. Notebook computers have found their way into squad cars and have proven a great tool for writing reports. Computers are also valuable tools in the cataloging of evidence found at crime scenes and raid sites. They also make easy work of managing law enforcement evidence rooms. In some departments, computers are used to facilitate communications via e-mail, and the most progressive law enforcement agencies have created Internet Web sites to promote public relations. This is not yet the norm, and many law enforcement executives are considering for the first time how the Internet might be used by their agencies.

E-mail and other Internet features can certainly maximize the efficiency of law enforcement agencies. But some departments are hung up on whether or not potential problems outweigh potential benefits. After all, the Internet was never intended to be secure, and the perception remains that a lowlife or pervert is hiding under every "cyber rock."

True, caution should not be thrown to the wind. As with anything else that is new, proper planning and research is essential for success.

Military-Strength Encryption

With the possible exception of an agencywide computer network, Internet e-mail is the fastest, easiest and most cost-effective means of sharing law enforcement communications. The click of a mouse can broadcast e-mail messages to one or more individuals within an agency, or even to individuals in other law enforcement agencies. If the information is sensitive, it doesn't take much extra effort to encrypt the sensitive information and attach it to an e-mail message. As long as the recipient of the message knows the password and has the ability to receive e-mail attachments, a high degree of law enforcement security can be maintained.

File encryption has proven a mixed blessing for law enforcement agencies over the last several years. In some cases, the crooks have used encryption to block law enforcement access to their communications and computer files. As a result, dealing with encrypted files has become a serious cause of hair pulling by law enforcement computer specialists. However, not everything about encryption is bad. The same technology can be used by law enforcement agencies to keep law enforcement secrets away from the criminal element. It has worked well for the military and corporations. It should work just as well for law enforcement agencies.

Military-strength file encryption software is available for government and corporate computer users from a variety of commercial sources. With e-mail attachments, the recipient doesn't even have to have a copy of the encryption program, because the sender can send the encrypted attachment as a small program run by the recipient. The only thing needed to decipher the attachment is the correct password and the ability of the recipient to receive binary attachments via e-mail. By using Internet e-mail in this fashion, law enforcement officials can easily and securely communicate using state-of-the-art technology.

Cops On The Web

Web pages are starting to become more popular in law enforcement circles. They can be used to share crime prevention information and other law enforcement communications with