Wayne County, Michigans Internet Crimes Task Force has had a very successful run since its formation in 1998, making 30 felony arrests of people for Internet-related crimes.

The bulk of those arrests have been for sex-related crimes involving children. Other arrests have involved identity theft and physicians who prescribed medications such as Viagra and Propecia in violation of Michigan law, which requires doctors to examine patients before issuing a prescription. In addition, investigators made an arrest for the distribution of gamma hydroxy butyrate, or GHB, known as the "date rape" drug.

Although the task force is obviously working well, one arrest in particular showed Sheriff Robert Ficano that his task force might be intellectually outgunned.

About 18 months ago, the task force arrested and convicted a 15-year-old who had been distributing child pornography, apparently as some sort of gag. Sheriff Ficano told the Detroit Free Press that it soon became clear that the youth "knew more than we did" about computer technology.

Its a well-documented problem: Governments and government agencies have much more difficulty than the private sector in keeping up with technological advances.

This problem is perhaps most acute in the world of law enforcement. Agents across the country find themselves attempting to out-sleuth criminals who are equipped with fast, powerful computers and software designed to encrypt, decrypt, crack passwords or penetrate corporate and personal firewalls.

Raising the Collective IQ

Ficano started looking for help, forming the Internet Crime Commission in early December to seek assistance from the private sector. The commission met for the first time in January.

So far, 15 companies, including EDS,Xerox, Novell, General Dynamics and Ameritech, have agreed to join the commission. The firms will provide approximately $500,000 in staff time, technical assistance and high-speed computer equipment to the task force.

"We feel the task force is very advanced in what were doing, yet we realize that we have all these partners in the private sector that can help us out," Ficano said. "Theyve indicated that theyll be able to contribute consulting experts, equipment and time -- which is the most valuable -- to us."

He said network administrators, information-security experts and fraud examiners from the companies will donate their time to help the five investigators on the task force. Despite the high level of training that the county provides for the investigators, the officers find themselves at a loss in certain situations.

"Whats key for us is the forensic value that these companies bring to us," Ficano said. "Their expertise helps us show that a transmission came from a particular computer. It gets into the evidentiary situations involving the arrest and the conviction. These companies are very good [at] being able to establish [where a transmission comes from] scientifically."

The task forces agents see the commission as a way to mine the private sectors base of knowledge.

"We understand that a lot of resources sit within corporate America," said Stanley Kirk, the task forces director of e-commerce, who acts as the liaison between the business community and the task force. "They have the ability to deal with advanced-technology issues. On the other side, while law enforcement may not necessarily have the same resources of the corporate sector, law enforcement does have the power of the subpoena, the search warrant and the like.

"The thoughts were to marry the two -- to get the best practices of corporate America and marry it with what law enforcement has," Kirk said. "Its also key to have corporations involved with what we do from the standpoint that they constantly have their finger on the pulse of whats happening in e-commerce and e-business."

Public/Private Law Enforcement

When creating the commission, members of the task force quickly