The FBI is moving toward cloud computing, but it has some requirements that present unique challenges, according to Jeremy Wiltz, the agency’s deputy assistant director, Criminal Justice Information Services, based in West Virginia. Wiltz was a panelist at the 2014 Cloud Computing Brainstorm in September, and sat down with FTI for a follow-up interview.
On the one hand, Wiltz says, cloud computing offers the prospect of cost savings.
“I think we would realize more cost savings if we were able to fully go to the public cloud, because that’s real economies of scale,” Wiltz told FTI. “What we’re trying to save money on is O&M [operations and maintenance]. You know, if we didn’t have to pay service maintenance agreements on a lot of hardware, [we’d save] a lot of money. O&M is expensive … I think if we can get to a point where we’re leveraging the cloud and saving money on O&M, frankly I think that will pay big dividends, because we pay an awful lot of money.” This is the only way the agency can get the funds to make capital investment in new technologies, he said.
On the other hand, the FBI has a particular responsibility to protect the privacy of individuals’ personal information contained in its records. When the FBI does background checks on civilians, for instance, it gathers their fingerprints and associated biographical information.
“The majority of our data is not our data, not the FBI’s data – it’s the states’ and other agencies,” Wiltz explained. “We are stewards of their data. So we have to abide by their rules.”
It is because of this responsibility that Wiltz says the agency worries about mobile computing.
“What I’m interested in is how do the banks do it? How does the medical industry do it? If you go in to just about any doctor now, they’re on tablets,” he said. “What are they putting in place to protect their data? [T]hat’s why we worry, because mobile is another way in to the system, and now you’ve just multiplied” the potential entry points.
Another consideration, he said, is the “optics” of using a commercial cloud platform.
“If we hosted everything with Microsoft or Google and [had to investigate them], how would it look that our data was sitting in their cloud?” he said. “That’s a big challenge for us. That’s why we’re looking at a private cloud.”
But the cloud will be part of the FBI’s future, Wiltz said, in part because in a digital world ordinary citizens can provide useful information. He pointed to a recent high-profile event as an example.
“When the Boston Marathon incident happened, the public wanted to send us all kinds of stuff,” he said. “How do you scale to that when you’re on a government budget?”
Citizens don’t know very much about how to get information to the FBI, but they know how to use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, he said. In that kind of case, the agency has to look to the public clouds and get their assistance in gathering information from the public.
“If we could work with those vendors, that’s the kind of thing we would use the public cloud for,” he said.