Thomas R. Temin
Recently, in a Maryland county, a man was arrested for'and confessed to'a murder he'd committed months earlier. He was caught only after witnesses saw him attempting to abduct another woman and drag her into his house, which happened to be steps from the earlier crime scene.
It turned out that in the aftermath of the murder, neighbors had alerted an assistant state's attorney about the man, who had an earlier sexual assault conviction. But the information didn't make it to police, which possibly delayed the arrest until the wrongdoer committed another attack.
Perhaps a more integrated system would have alerted police to the presence of a known sex offender living within spitting distance of the murder site.
In this issue's cover story, associate editor Trudy Walsh describes two large justice systems integration efforts. Both use the Web as a front end, but the real story is the connection of data from several fiefdoms'police, corrections and courts.
As the case histories in San Diego and Pennsylvania show, the right middleware, coupled with the right front-end tools and communications standards, can yield a surprisingly integrated view of data from disparate sources. As Otto Doll observes in his column on this page, health care delivery organizations are under pressure to integrate and share data to meet the requirements of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Fresh efforts at integration come as citizens' concerns about privacy multiply, which adds a new twist to the integration challenge. Recent U.S. Health and Human Services Department rules for protecting medical data privacy restrict how agencies can handle and share data.
The virtues of data integration bring increased responsibility and require attention be paid to the privacy implications of cross-agency data sharing. The agencies running individual databases that feed integrated systems must redouble their efforts to maintain data integrity and security, otherwise integration could propagate errors.
The bottom line: A comprehensive privacy plan should be part of any systems integration project.
Thomas R. TeminEditorial director