Justice data abounds; the key is sharing it

Otto Doll

A lot of technology these days is being thrown at law enforcement agencies, the courts and corrections departments. Yet the key ingredient'information'does not always flow among these organizations within a state, much less among states. The answer'and the challenge'is to establish a nationwide data-sharing architecture.

The criminal justice community supplies a model for governmental data sharing among these diverse groups. It operates extensively in local-to-local, local-to-state and local-to-federal collaborations. Applying the right technology here will increase data sharing among the states and various federal agencies.

Nationwide data sharing requires a governmental architecture comprising a network, an operating system and application systems. The focus should be on sharing dynamic structured information through the architecture.

Shared, standardized information is more accurate, timely, complete and ultimately less expensive to process. It would justify the many years of effort required to build a national data-sharing architecture.

We already have a start on a nationwide telecommunications architecture. The Internet's interoperability fits the bill for an infrastructure based on open technical standards; the task is one of implementation rather than of persuasion.

The next step would be a nationwide sharing vocabulary. The operating environment must be based on open standards revolving around the Internet and Internet-like solutions. A national architecture must be extensive enough to support a full range of data exchanges, whether one is pushing information to another agency, pulling information from another agency, querying outside systems, responding to queries from outside agencies or publishing the fact that data has changed.

Finally, you need a set of common documents. Basically, states must ensure that the one who holds the data is willing, able and authorized to provide it and that the receiver is able to demonstrate a need, be able to receive the data and agree to abide by the holder's usage rules.

These specifications must not place limits on the internal database structure or internal document specifications of any participating database. Only then will widespread adoption be guaranteed.

Many of these components are already in place in many organizations. The challenge is to link them systematically and deploy them widely. Reaching a national consensus among all levels of government will take time, but it is possible.

The National Association of State Information Resource Executives; SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics; the Justice Department; the states and many other organizations are working on these challenges. Such a collaborative effort likely will be the hallmark of successful innovation in coming years. You can see how this national issue could expand to a global setting.

It will be a challange to blend not only a mix of databases and systems but also a mix of community law enforcement agencies. A metropolitan police force has obvious reasons for wanting in-car automation that serves up information on demand, but a lone sheriff in a town of 50 might not be able to justify the cost of such equipment. Victory can be declared when even the least-populated criminal justice community achieves a highly collaborative world of data sharing across governmental agencies.

Otto Doll, South Dakota's chief information officer, formerly worked in federal information technology and was president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.


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