Which role do lawful interception activities play in the work of intelligence services, law enforcement agencies and their monitoring centers?

Intelligence Gathering by LEAs

One critical, essential tool used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to fight serious crime like terrorism, child abuse or organized crime is the analysis of the suspects' communications.
Accordingly, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in nearly all countries worldwide intercept the communications data of suspected criminals in relation to serious crimes, terrorism, cyber crime and organized crime. Under the provision of a warrant, service providers and network operators hand over communications data to the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies. So-called monitoring centers are the LEA’s tools to analyze this (forensic) telecommunications data in detail.

Analysis of the intercepted data provides general intelligence to cyber law enforcement about the suspects’ organization and relationships as well as specific information and evidence about planned or already committed criminal acts.

Quality Requirements for Lawful Interception and Intercepted Data

Lawful interception and monitoring software has to meet high technical standards to ensure the effectiveness of communications intelligence.
LEA requirements for intercepted data include:

  • Generation of a complete, unchanged copy of the original communications data
  • Secure delivery in real-time to the LEA's monitoring centers
  • Separate delivery of content of communication (CC) and communications metadata (Interception Related Information – IRI)
  • Data encrypted by the network of the provider must be delivered in plaintext
  • Only data to be intercepted must be delivered; the data privacy of other subscribers must be guaranteed

Besides these data-centric requirements, an LI solution also has to fulfill the following technical requirements:

  • Data must be intercepted in real-time in complex networks, possibly even on network routes that change during one session
  • The whole process must be undetectable by the intercepted user
  • Data must be stored securely on the LEA's premises
  • The Monitoring Center must provide the analysis functionalities required by the specific Law Enforcement Agencies

Lawful Interception Systems and Mediation Devices

The mediation devices of a lawful interception system perform all tasks related to the delivery of intercepted communications to the LEA monitoring center. This means that the requested data is only sent to the monitoring center of the authorized agency. Mediation encompasses the conversion and mapping of interception data received from the internal network to the appropriate formats, protocols and interfaces as required by intelligence services and the police.

Monitoring Centers

Intercepted communications data is handed over to intelligence services, police and other LEAs  via standardized interfaces like ETSI or ANSI. In their monitoring centers, the data is further processed in order to support the investigative work. Monitoring centers  enable LEAs to analyze the intercepted data according to their needs. For example, data is correlated to detect otherwise unknown relationships or is transformed into charts that visualize certain behavior patterns of the intercepted targets.

Due to the ever increasing amount of communications data and the worldwide connected telecommunications services, analysis of intercepted telecommunications data is an unsurpassed source of intelligence for LEAs. For this reason, lawful interception systems play a significant role in the work of police, intelligence services and other law enforcement agencies. Lawful interception is nowadays an essential part of the tool kit in the fight against organized crime.