Kuwait’s Ministry of Justice Assesses RFID File Tracking

By Claire Swedberg

The system uses EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags to track the locations and movements of legal files at the ministry's Justice Palace in Kuwait City.

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When a court case is filed at the Kuwait Ministry of Justice‘s Justice Palace in Kuwait City, court employees can find the paperwork related to that case by signing into software and viewing the documents’ last known location. The technology was provided by Litum Technologies and its local partner, Innovative Solutions, a startup owned by Adeem Investment.

The office handles thousands of new cases every month, each of which requires a file consisting of a folder filled with paperwork to be processed, reviewed and brought to court, and then eventually stored in the archives. The ministry employs approximately 200 carriers whose sole job is to bring files from one location or department to another. In addition, other ministry personnel sometimes move files to other offices or leave the building with them. Because the files are often on the move, finding them when they are needed has been difficult, and in some cases, a folder was found, but its paperwork was missing. This has caused serious problems when those documents were necessary for a case’s prosecution or defense.

Ministry of Justice’s Sulaiman Al-Mansour

What’s more, a file can take six hours to several days to reach its destination, such as the desk of the attorney who requested it. Until that file arrives, the court had no information about who has it and where it is located.

The Ministry of Justice’s staff, therefore, had spent a lot of time simply searching for folders and, in some cases, their paperwork, says Sulaiman Al-Mansour, the ministry’s operation department manager. That slow process has led to delays to legal proceedings inside the courts, he explains.

Consequently, the ministry opted to launch an RFID-based system to gain a view into where files are located, including an alert being triggered if a file leaves the Justice Palace. “The system currently is in phase one,” Al-Mansour says. “We are looking forward to extending the system to cover all court sites, and to expand it in our legal departments in the coming phases.”

Litum provided the hardware and software for the system, while Innovative Solutions installed the technology. The ministry began working with Innovative Solutions about one year ago, says Ahmed Hassan, Innovative Solutions’ executive director. The company and Litum had already provided the ministry with an RFID-based asset-management system consisting of EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags attached to such items as IT equipment, which would then be tracked using a handheld reader.

In the case of file tracking, however, the ministry needed to find and manage the movements of millions of folders, as well as the paperwork contained within, and it required fixed readers to make it possible to automatically collect location information as the files were moved to key areas, such as a clerk’s or lawyer’s desk, or through doorways. “We designed the system to track the movement of files until they go to court,” Hassan states.

Altogether, the companies installed 48 fixed readers, some at doorways and others on desktops, says Alp Ülkü, Litum’s business-development director. The system consists of five Impinj R420 UHF RFID reader gates on each of three floors of the building, he reports, as well as Litum 11 dBic reader antennas. (The building contains 11 floors, but for phase one, the ministry is tracking file movements only on three of them).

Litum provided ThingMagic USB desktop readers, as well as Smartrac Frog 3D EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID inlays, which were attached to folders and paperwork.

Litum’s Alp Ülkü

When a new court case is generated, a file is created and the case ID is stored, along with the ID number of the RFID tag attached to the folder for that file, in the Litum File Tracking software residing on the ministry’s database. Important documents are stored in the folder, such as certifications or signed paperwork, and each page is also tagged, its tag ID number linked to the folder’s tag ID.

The folders are then sent either to be filed, or to the desk of an individual working on the case, such as a court clerk or an attorney. Because it was deemed unrealistic to install portals at every office door through which the files most commonly pass, the ministry installed the portal readers only at key areas where people pass to enter each floor, and then deployed desktop readers at workers’ desks to capture more specific data. Thus, if an employee transports a file from a storage shelf to an individual’s desk, that movement is captured at fixed portals, and again at the desktop of the clerk or lawyer receiving that file. The collected read data is forwarded to the File Tracking software and that file’s location is updated.

A carrier or other individual seeking a specific file can then sign into the software, input the case number or name, and view the folder’s location based on the tag ID number linked to that folder, as well as the location of its last RFID read.

The software also provides alerting in the event of exceptions. For instance, if a carrier is transporting 10 folders, each containing a single tagged document, and passes through one portal where all folder and document tags are read, followed by a second in which one tag is missing (despite no desktop readers capturing that missing tag ID), the software knows there is a potential problem. However, the system is designed to wait for the next read of the associated tags to confirm that the file is missing (and has not simply failed to be read at one location). An alert is issued to appointed staff members via e-mail. According to Hassan, the software initially was set to sound an audible alert at each portal, but the ministry later opted for e-mails only. “The sound alert was disruptive,” he explains, so e-mails were selected as a quieter alternative. At the main exit gate’s RFID portal, however, an audible alert would still sound if someone without an approved badge ID attempted to remove a folder or document.

Each ministry employee wears a badge with a Smartrac tag embedded in it, and that person’s identity is stored in the software along with the tag’s ID number. If that individual walks through an RFID portal with a file, the software knows who is taking those documents and, therefore, who is responsible for them.

Additionally, the system can send alerts if files leave the building without a tagged carrier or other worker, or if not approved to be removed at all. However, Hassan notes, there are some exceptions to this system. For instance, judges are not required to wear badges, and they may take a file out of the building to review at home. In such instances, they are asked to use a desktop reader to interrogate the tags of any files they remove and input their own ID to link to those files. In that way, the software is updated regarding a file’s status even before it leaves the building.

Innovative Solutions’ Ahmed Hassan

If no one signed out a particular file, and if no badge was detected as that file left the building, employees will receive an alert. They can then review video footage of that portal to identify who is taking the file.

If court personnel need to search for a file within a given area—such as a storage room in which archived files are stored—they can take a handheld Atid AT880 reader and walk through that area after inputting the case ID for the folder or paperwork they seek.

Since the system was installed in September 2015, Ülkü reports, it has reduced the amount of time that it takes for files to reach their destination, by making carriers more accountable, and by making it easier for them to locate those files. The ministry initially ordered 500,000 tags, he says.

The Ministry of Justice is still assessing the solution’s effectiveness, Hassan says, but intends to move into phase two in about a month. At that point, readers will be installed on other floors of the palace, as well as in some other buildings. The ministry will continue tagging new files as they are established.