Mohammad AlShamsi, Head of Firearms and Toolmarks Section of the Dubai Police, joins us in the studio to share how blockchain technology is helping combat organized crime.
Hello Mohammed. How are you today? Very well. Thank you for joining us. Um So tell me what is the Dubai Police doing with Blockchain? Ok. And I'm the head of firearms and tool section at the General Department of Forensic Science and Criminology and uh in forensics. Uh there are many applications that you can work with, but uh especially in firearms, we are uh working on a little bit of a proof of concept if you will, that allows us to trace firearms internationally as you know, organized crime may have firearms involved moving from one country to another. Uh Similarly, we examine ballistics, fingerprints and that allows us to determine that this specific bullet came out of this specific firearm. Can you, can you tell me a little bit more about how that works? Exactly? It's uh it's trust me, it's time consuming. It's not easy as it may look. But uh the way that it happens is we recover a bullet from a crime scene or a cartridge case. And uh once a firearm is, is submitted to us, we actually test fire it in a water tank and then we get that specific bullet that we shot and the bullet that came out of a comparison, the crime scene and we use something called the comparison microscope to look at two objects simultaneously. And if the ballistics fingerprint were both the same, that means both of them came out of the same source. So it's like a very microscopic study of little, little scratches. Exactly. And this is the the the scientific term for that is striations, striations, not scratches. Um OK. And, and like why should we put this on the Blockchain? All? Very nice. So this process that I just mentioned is is time intensive. And the way we search all our previous crimes, previous firearms is we use something called an automated ballistics identification system. And what that does it uh is it scans the ballistics fingerprint of a bullet or a cartridge case and allows us to search an entire database and it shows us the top 20 most similar marks. And then we need to manually sit down and confirm that under the microscope again. However, the the challenge occurs when you have two law enforcement in different states, different countries trying to communicate to each other. If they are not using the same system, then they won't be able to search each other's database. If they are not using similar standards, similarly, similar issues may occur. And also there is a challenge with regards to uh translucent trust uh of sharing that data. Um For example, there is only one existing database when it comes to international uh Ballistics Identification Systems Database. And uh however, if you do not use that specific product, then you cannot access search or share your data. However, Blockchain can be that facilitator that we're looking for. It can work on the software rather than the actual hardware that is used for scanning, it can allow us to use access or authorizations to control who actually can, can share, contribute to that database or have access to it simultaneously. Blockchain offers us a unique perspective when sensitive topics such as criminals, knowing that their firearms or ballistics fingerprint is actually on that database and maliciously blackmail or bribe that owner of that data in order for them to delete it from the files. So having a public record or a leisure uh might be the facilitator that we're looking for. But do you need to um say with the different systems of keeping the ballistics data, would you also need to un like other than putting them on the Blockchain perhaps like brig them? But would you also need to do some other software work to unify them? Yes. So um when it comes to the two different systems or more, um you need to have a least some sort of standard and that standard at the moment does not exist. However, when it comes, when it's using the Blockchain for that facilitation, as long as you can interpret the data correctly, then you can re sample rescale it using a format that we use called the XP an X three P is not like a fingerprints file where it's literally just two D. It's a picture. No, the problem with the ballistics fingerprint is it's 3D. So you also have that depth associated with it and it's a heavy file is that the only type of file, this is the most or universal iso standard file that is being used at the moment. However, there are other formats that may be used. However, in this research, in this proof of concept, we are trying to figure out what would be the best for the purpose of facilitating this international call amongst uh automated ballistics identification systems. So it's almost like making sort of J PGS and gifs or like all compatible kind of kind of. But those two are are too. Yeah. Um Well, um I imagine that a lot of this data is very sensitive and I imagine and correct me if I'm wrong that a lot of law enforcement agencies are not particularly keen on sharing that data. I mean, II I can and again, correct me if I'm wrong, like I can imagine they're quite um not necessarily distrustful but not immediately trusting of new technologies. Is that something that you have seen? And how would you go about convincing them when it comes to, to how sensitive the information is? As you mentioned, the firearms is a little bit of a sensitive topic and it's always the identified information that is sensitive. So for example, if you have a picture of literally just a fingerprint, will that mean anything to you? Probably not unless you know that fingerprint is actually that person's fingerprint. So those databases are unidentified in nature. So it tells you, well, this is the reference number associated with that specific ballistics ident ballistics fingerprint, but it doesn't tell you that this firearm is Xyzs firearm from this country. So that comes into in collaboration with tracking or firearm tracing as we call it. So, firearm tracing is a discipline where you need to actually trace physically the firearm from the manufacturer to the to the shop who bought it? Was it sold to who or was it actually went off the grid? Was it exported, imported all that mess? So you need to have clean records that are reliable, transparent and everyone can have an idea of what is going on because when it comes to tracing at the moment, there are various organizations around the world that have their own data because they are the owners of their data. However, it becomes a sensitive topic when you ask them about something and they don't share. You can imagine if there are political influences or conflict between two different countries, even though they have existing maybe memorandum of understandings or, or collaboration documents in place. Will they actually work together if conflicts were between two countries probably not. So to prevent this from happening. Blockchain can be the facilitator for also tracing and it helps us, we can see this with different applications as well in agriculture and many more where you can use Blockchain to determine from the supplier to the end user what actually went wrong and where it happened for you to instantly try to improve. Uh what went wrong earlier are these private companies? Um No, most of them are law enforcement. Ok. Most. Ok. Um um So it sounds like the tracing of firearms is quite a different process than the ballistics, correct. It's, it's actually a different process, however, it comes hand in hand. So uh the reason why I say this is because firearms examiners actually perform one kind of examination which is serial number restorations and uh sometimes when firearms are used in crimes, uh their numbers are removed, obliterated and we restore those numbers using uh physical magnetic chemical restoration methods. And this is why it is important to, to have the forensics examiners on board to identify, to successfully identify what make model caliber is this specific firearm? There are specific uh marks called the proof marks. Military acceptance marks that you would not necessarily pay attention to on a firearm. But it can actually tell you a more information than you would expect that this firearm actually uh was manufactured in this country but tested in another, another, the army of another country may have actually adopted that firearm and so on. But this kind of more like detective work is not, cannot be put on the Blockchain or it's harder than just the ballistics. It can, it, you may have another uh um application just for tracing. And uh this is something we're definitely looking into because, um, as I mentioned earlier, it's uh at the moment, the status quo is everyone has their own data. And even if you have part of that puzzle, you need the whole picture to understand what's actually going on. How do you see this being used for other types of um like, you know, criminology or like another thing is similar to notaries, sometimes agencies or countries or states may have a problem with authentic, authentic, a specific forensics report that may be sent to the court. However, using Blockchain, you can easily do that check if it's the updated version or not and so on. Uh the the opportunities are on this when it comes to Blockchain. However, I strongly believe that Blockchain is a technology that will help facilitate reaching those goals really fast. And what about the co ordination aspect of that? Because if we expand this, this logic, this technology to a lot of other types of data, then perhaps things are getting a little bit more even more sensitive, right? We're going into privacy issues, we're going into the fact that there are things that are crimes in one country that are not in another perhaps sort of issues around civil liberties and, and human rights. Do you, do you feel like using Blockchain makes these problems better or worse? It actually helps facilitate those problems. So it can, uh one example to make it really clear is uh uh Blockchain can introduce specific information that um other information is, is an unidentified. Um So for example, some, some person might say, well, uh my sex or gender or uh my age is something sensitive or personal that I don't like to share or my religion. And uh Blockchain will actually allow the other party requesting specific information to have access to that specific information on its own. Um At the same time when it comes to, to governments and we heard this earlier today in, in the panel discussion is it introduces a bottom up approach, not just a top down approach where you can use voting to, to steer the direction of the changing technology based on the needs. Uh At the end of the day, when you come to International Cooper Operation, the guidelines for that cooper operation needs to be as agile as flexible without uh let's say, conflicting with more specific or region based guidelines. So like my government could share with your government or another well, law enforcement agencies um data about um the specific weapon or like like data related to the crime, but not necessarily information about me or information that could um lead to me being implicated in something else. And this is something very important when it comes to criminal justice systems all over the world. Because um the we do need to take our due diligence and documentations when it comes to to the investigation. However, at the same time, we have an old saying, uh 10 minutes means 10 kilometers. If you just waste 10 minutes of time in an investigation, that person may well be far away in 10 kilometers and uh uh Blockchain can help facility reaching those information when it comes to a more objective non identified approach. However, when it comes to intelligence and personal data, then obviously the same method of communicating from one governance from one law enforcement agency or one government to another still remains the same. Got it very interesting, Mohammed. I'm really glad we got to talk about this today. My pleasure. Thank you so much. Thank you.