Richard Leaning

Bringing Law Enforcement Into the RIPE Community

Richard Leaning
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Thanks to a changing technological and political landscape, it's become more important than ever for the RIPE NCC to engage the law enforcement community.

The first time I dealt with the RIPE NCC and the RIPE community was while working as a British police officer in 2008. I worked on cybercrime investigations and was invited to the RIPE NCC's first Roundtable Meeting for governments and regulators in Amsterdam. I didn't know what to expect, but I did know what I wanted: make it difficult for criminals to use Internet number resources for criminal activity and, if they did, make it easier for law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to identify those criminals.

Nine years later, I'm working for the RIPE NCC's External Relations team to bring the RIPE community and the LEA community closer together. In that time, we've come a long way - but there's still a lot of work we can do to help law enforcement agents do their jobs and make the Internet a safer place, to the benefit of Internet users everywhere. 

Thinking Like a Cop in an Engineer's World

It hasn't been an easy road. The technical community that makes up a large part of the RIPE community and tends to drive a lot of the policy in this part of the world has a very different approach, challenges and goals than those of the LEA community. And yet, LEAs - and the governments they serve - are members of the RIPE NCC and of the RIPE community. As such, they deserve to have a voice in the discussion - something that has become more and more important as citizens' lives become more and more entwined with the Internet and its many applications. 

They also have a right to help shape RIPE Policy using the Policy Development Process. Part of my job is to help LEAs understand this process and how their suggestions on changing policy would impact the broader RIPE community, such as making changes to the RIPE Database, for example, that would make it easier for them to find the closest service provider to an end user engaged in criminal activity. This isn't special treatment, though – the RIPE NCC also helps governments, network operators, banks, business owners or anyone else interested in submitting a policy proposal do these things as well. It's part of our job as the RIPE secretariat. 

All Crimes Are Now "Cybercrimes"

What we once termed "cybercrime" now encompasses each and every crime perpetrated in "real life". There's no crime that doesn't have some online element to it, whether it's purchasing an assault rifle online to carry out an attack, the spread of hate speech via social media, an email sent by a murderer that can give clues as to his whereabouts at a certain time, or the ransomware attacks that we see in the news nearly every day.

In addition, the run-out of IPv4 has made things even more technically challenging for LEAs, as ISPs use CGNs more and more to stretch their limited number of IP addresses, making it harder to identify who was using a particular IP address at a given time.

Things Are Changing, Whether We Like It Or Not

It's not just the technological landscape that's changing as the Internet becomes more and more present in our daily lives. As a result of this omnipresence, governments and intergovernmental organisations are more and more interested in how the Internet is being used and governed. This means paying closer attention to the different organisations involved in Internet governance and policy - including the Regional Internet Registries. 

It's imperative for RIPE's and the RIPE NCC's continued success that we can defend our way of doing things and demonstrate our responsibility and accountability in shaping Internet policy and running some of the critical Internet infrastructure that allows the global functioning of the Internet. There are governments, regulators and LEAs out there who would like to see more regulation and top-down policymaking. Some don't see the need for the global registry system and are fighting for nationally controlled Internet registries to take their place. We need to work with these decision makers to help them understand why the current open, bottom-up, multistakeholder model works best. It's simply not a conversation we can avoid having, so we better learn how best to engage. 

Bridging the Gap

One of the ways we've done this is through our capacity building efforts, which include training courses that specifically address the needs of the LEA community, being present at the many meetings and forums where these issues are being discussed, and providing technical expertise where needed. A few months ago, the RIPE NCC launched a series of six webinars designed specifically to teach law enforcement agents how to use the RIPE Database and other services in their investigations. We had more than 400 agents from across the RIPE NCC service region participate. 

As a result of our efforts, we do see change happening. LEAs now have a better understanding of what the RIPE NCC and RIPE community are and what we do, how we work and how they can get involved to make sure their needs are being met. We get fewer requests for information from LEAs requiring a judicial authority or for types of information we're unable to provide. We see more LEAs attending RIPE Meetings and the Roundtable Meetings for governments and regulators, and we recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Europol to foster even better cooperation.

What Would Rob Say?

Some members of the RIPE community won't be convinced that we need to engage with law enforcement - and of course, they're entitled to their opinion. But let me just end with a personal story.

When I was a police officer, after one particularly difficult exchange during my presentation at a RIPE Meeting, I was standing outside at a social event having a smoke and a glass of red wine, contemplating whether I should continue trying to engage with "this lot" or go back to my government and write a damning report with the recommendation that we should get rid of the RIR system and do it ourselves. While standing there, Rob Blokzijl joined me.

He stood next to me with a cigarette and glass of red wine in his hand. After a few minutes, he said to me very quietly, “Dick, don’t give up. You are doing the right thing, and this lot will come around. Maybe not soon, but they will - they have to”. He then wandered away, but it was that exchange with Rob that made me continue in this work and help us achieve what we have today. 

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About the author

Richard Leaning Based in Brussels/London

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