Microsoft Targets Public Safety

In remarks addressed to a public safety conference on Wednesday, Microsoft's chief operating officer defended the company's increased investment in research and development.

Kevin Turner reiterated Microsoft's plan to increase spending on research and development by US$1 billion this year, with the expectation of a total investment of $9.1 billion. "It's a bold step because it's not a popular one with financial analysts and from the financial markets. But this company is not run by financial analysts or external markets. We are run by doing the right thing in the long term," he said.

"That puts pressure on us to develop great solutions and scenarios that create value," he said. "If I'm here next year you'll know we're making progress. If not, some other guy will be up here," he joked.

Turner addressed an international crowd of police chiefs, fire service personnel, border guards and criminal justice workers at the Worldwide Public Safety Symposium the company is hosting on its Redmond, Washington, corporate campus.

The increased research and development budget will help Microsoft respond to demands resulting from increasing cybercrime and natural disasters, he said. "It's an interesting and opportunistic time that lets us do things that are important to the world and to society," Turner said.

Turner said he is personally interested in building products that can be helpful to public safety groups because his father worked for the U.S. Treasury and survived the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Turner and other Microsoft executives say the company is responding to changing demands from the public safety community. "More and more events require cross agency collaboration. Gone are the days with organizations that work solo," said Dermot Barry, Microsoft's managing director of worldwide public safety.

The poor economy is being linked to in an increase in all kinds of crime, including those that use computers and the Internet. "It's quite evident that organized crime will always capitalize on human misery," said Piere-Yves Bourduas, retired deputy commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

To try to help public safety agencies, Microsoft announced Citizen Safety Architecture, an umbrella under which it will market its existing products and those of partners for use by public safety organizations. Examples include FusionX, technology built on Office that Microsoft developed with the Illinois State Police. Law enforcement agents who are focused on counter terrorism use it to analyze data.

The Microsoft Intelligence Framework helps various law enforcement agencies share information with each other and coordinate responses to events. Other Microsoft products including Sharepoint, Groove, Virtual Earth and Unified Communications are being used by public safety agencies, Microsoft said.

Microsoft also announced that it will give its Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor to Interpol, which will distribute it to the 187 countries that participate in Interopol. COFEE is a USB drive loaded with forensics tools that law enforcement agents can use to gather electronic evidence from criminals' computers.

Microsoft has been distributing the tool for several years, despite some criticism. Some security experts say that COFEE, which is used at the location where the computer is found, invariably alters the computer. That makes the data collected via COFEE different from the data that will later be discovered on the machine in a lab, after the computer is powered down, and saved. Because the data is different and appears to have been altered, it could be unusable in court.

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