Intelligence gathering

Law enforcement across the world gathers information/intelligence, but what differs is the manner in which it collects, records, assesses, and uses the intelligence received. Intelligence is information that goes through a process of evaluation, collation, analysis, reporting, and dissemination. This process is laborious and requires skilled personnel and data management systems.[1] [2] [3] Intelligence is required to increase knowledge about a particular person, activities, or groups that can inform a response, be it for law enforcement or policy. Intelligence can be tactical or strategic. ‘Tactical’ refers to intelligence that leads to immediate law-enforcement priorities and ‘strategic’ intelligence is longer-term in nature, providing material for evidence-based and -grounded response and policy development^1 Intelligence can be gathered overtly or covertly. Examples of covert intelligence-gathering may include electronic surveillance, undercover operations, and confidential informants, while overt intelligence may be gathered via court reports, document assessment, business records, and media reports.32 All that said, theory and practice are two different things. Not all law enforcement agencies have the resources to create, run, and develop a full-scale intelligence op- eration.33 A lack of a robust system of collection can result in or influence the level of illegal gathering of intelligence; while valuable information might be gathered, such practices can jeopardize court cases, even if the information gained is true.

A functioning intelligence cell can bring great rewards, but requires a thorough understanding of what intelligence is and how to manage it. Intelligence is critical for decision making, planning, targeting, and in the prevention of TOC. As a result, as the use of technology and communications systems evolves, intelligencegathering tools have had to adapt to make better use of information being spread via the internet, telephones, and wider social media. This places a demand on law enforcement to ensure their tools and techniques are best designed and placed to maximize the changing TOC techniques and practices. Such evolution is not always fast enough, because the use of intelligence is heavily constrained by legislation and policy in many countries, which as mentioned above is usually slow to change. This gap in matching tools with practices can provide criminals with an enabling environment outside the view of the police.

There are a number of other concerns or issues that must be borne in mind when law enforcement uses intelligence. First, given that intelligence-gathering techniques are often intrusive, strict controls for use need to be put in place. Such techniques often breach privacy and civil liberties laws and as a result law enforcement is required to be respectful of people’s rights as far as possible.[4] [5] [6] [7] In some countries, restrictions of use may be provided for in legislation. While some countries have legal exemptions from the applicability of this law to intelligence, they usually provide strict guidelines with regard to data management, and collection and retention rules. Whilst having the information is one thing, sharing the information with other agencies is another. The ability to share intelligence or any form of data held has been a major obstacle in the international fight against TOC but is also evident at the national level. Where exchanges are allowed, informal exchange is often preferred by law enforcement, given that it is often quicker and more efficient. However, that being said, such practices can render evidence inadmissible in court, because the checks, balances, and safeguards in place to protect the data were not used/5 While intelligence can and does play a significant role in the fight against TOC, national police forces must have the resources to structure and manage their intelligence-gathering system effectively, must be able to change quickly as offenders use different methods and practices, and must have the ability to share and receive intelligence quickly where necessary for the proper investigation of TOC, whilst also accepting the need for proper protocols to be put in place to protect citizens and prevent abuse. Furthermore, intelligence is often unproven allegation rather than fact, and therefore the security surrounding the management and storage of this information is of paramount importance. This requires a high level of physical and technical security, from the perspective of safeguarding files, limiting access, and control of the environment in which they are stored. Many police forces have very restricted access protocols to reduce the opportunity for misuse or wrongful circulation of intelligence, while others do not.

  • [1] 32 Marilyn Peterson, ‘Intelligence-led policing: the new intelligence architecture’, Washington, DC,
  • [2] Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2005.
  • [3] 33 Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid. 35 UNODC, Globalization of Crime, cited in note 2 above.
  • [5] 36 UNODC, ‘Current practices in electronic surveillance in the investigation of serious and organised
  • [6] crime’, New York, United Nations, 2009.
  • [7] Ohr, ‘Effective methods to combat TOC’, cited in note 8 above.
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