Scotland's police forces will soon be able to tap into shared files with the launch of a new intelligence database.
The system helps identify patterns in criminal activity
The Scottish Intelligence Database (Sid) allows officers to contribute data locally and search for nationwide patterns across force boundaries.
The Scottish Executive has backed the project with £5.8m for development and £1.5m for implementation and training.
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said the system would help police in their fight against crime.
She said it would improve the targeting of criminals, support the
work of the Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency (SDEA) and make local communities
Information on offenders, including methods, fingerprints, known associates,
aliases and their vehicles, are all expected to be posted on the database.
It is hoped this will enable easier profiling and weaken the ability of criminals to escape detection across force boundaries.
Ms Jamieson said: "Criminals don't respect police force borders.
"If the police have an accurate picture about what is happening in one part
of the country and that picture is based on sound intelligence they will be
better placed to respond in another.
"Harnessing modern technology is vital to modern policing.
"Sid will replace several smaller databases with one nation-wide database and will, for example, enable an officer in Inverness to share relevant and current information with a colleague in Dundee."
Sid will run on the Criminal Justice Extranet system, which already enables Scotland's eight forces and other crime-fighting agencies such as the SDEA to exchange information on a secure electronic network.
The Strathclyde and the Lothian & Borders forces, as well as the SDEA, are now linked up to Sid, which is due to be rolled out across the country by October 2004.
SDEA director and chairman of the Sid Project Board Jim Orr said: "Front line police officers who have the closest links with the communities they police, are finding the system extremely beneficial.
"Strathclyde Police has been using the system since September, and the
response from officers so far has been extremely positive.
Sid allows officers to exchange data on offenders
"Officers have been able to access a vast amount of information which was
previously unavailable to them."
However, concerns have been raised by civil liberty campaigners in the wake of the case being dropped against nine Algerians arrested under terrorism laws.
Rosemarie McIlwhan from the Scottish Human Rights Centre believes that the new computer system could lead to miscarriages of justice.
She said: "There is certainly the possibility of wrongful arrest and detentions.
"We've seen concerns expressed this week about what actually constitutes intelligence and if that's the quality of evidence that is used then we do wonder whether there will be more wrongful arrests of detentions based on that intelligence."