A few weeks ago, a convicted sex offender abducted a 10 year old girl from a shopping mall in my hometown (link). The attacker posed as a police officer, but when the girl asked too many questions, she was simply picked up and carried to a van, which then sped away from the mall. Even as the girl’s father searched the mall for his daughter, police pulled over the same van for speeding. The officer at the traffic stop ran the attacker’s drivers license, gave him a ticket, and let him go.
At the time police pulled over the van, there was no public bulletin, no specific information about a kidnapping, nothing to make the officer suspicious about the man and the girl. That officer had only one source at his disposal that could have caused him to question the situation in front of him: data delivered from a search on the drivers license of the attacker. The officer should have been able to see that the man was a convicted sexual predator with a violent history towards children. Did the officer actually see this data? I don’t know. If the officer did have access to that information, he did not make a correlation between the van’s passenger and the impropriety of a sexual predator being alone with a child. It is always easy to connect the dots after the fact of course, but the real question is: how could that police officer have been assisted in connecting those critical dots in real time? What needed to change in that situation to cause an inkling of suspicion, just enough for a few extra questions, a slightly more in-depth interview?
The ultimate goal of the identity management industry is to have correct information available in the moment when it is needed, presented in a fashion that changes decisions for the better. We have fancy names for this: corporate agility, visibility, business intelligence and so on; but those fancy terms go away when I think of that night, that scared little girl, and the police officer who didn’t understand the context of the situation in time to help.
In this case the story had a happy ending: the attacker, likely realizing that the police would eventually put two and two together, dropped the girl off unharmed at a fast food restaurant. What remains are questions from the community – the next time an officer happens to be in the right place at the right time, will the availability, accuracy, timeliness and relevance of the data he has access to save a life or cost it?