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National cybercrime center coming to Alabama

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

HOOVER — Alabama will be the home of a new national center for training investigators to find evidence hidden within the memory of computers, which experts said Thursday is increasingly important in cases ranging from terrorism to identity theft.

The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service are joining with state and local officials to launch the National Computer Forensic Institute, where as many as 1,000 people will get top-level training on topics including computer network protection and digital forensics, or recovering data from computers.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service, will attend a briefing on the center on Friday in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, where the center will be located.

The state will spend about $3 million completing the center, which will be located in the city's public safety center. Homeland Security initially will provide more than $8 million for training.

Randy Hillman, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, said the institute will create the first national accreditation for experts who testify about digital forensics. Such a move is important because computer-related evidence is being used more and more in trials, he said.

Digital forensics can be a factor in all sorts of police investigations. Cases involving everything from Internet predators to identity theft to terrorism can involve pulling data off hard-drives or figuring out how someone hacked into a computer network.

An expert in computer forensics said police and courts can be leery when dealing with the "alphabet soup" of titles that results from the current mishmash of training.

"If the federal government got involved and certified some training that would be pretty useful," said Golden G. Richard III, who teaches computer science at the University of New Orleans. "People testify now without any certification at all. The more formal process would really help."

The institute will be the second major training facility in Alabama with links to Homeland Security. The agency also operates the Center for Domestic Preparedness, which trains first responders in Anniston.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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