Information sharing does not occur in a vacuum. There are policy, legislative, political, and environmental concerns to be addressed, in addition to the underlying technology which makes it possible. By understanding these issues, one is better prepared to navigate the hurdles that are faced by those working to share information, but are not always empowered to do so.
Information represents the ability to do one’s job more effectively, and in the justice environment it can mean the difference between life and death. However, it can also be a danger, risk, or liability if not properly managed and safeguarded. Adequate security controls must be in place, as well as privacy policies that describe the handling of sensitive or classified data. When handling certain kinds of data, such as intelligence data, additional safeguards must be followed to ensure that information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Technology projects are expensive and introduce a good deal of risk when not managed or supported properly. Funding must be identified; project leaders and strategic champions are needed to drive home the importance of success; maintenance and upkeep must be accounted for from the beginning; legislative mandates and policy constraints all must be taken into account for an information sharing project to be successful. By examining these policy concerns in detail, this section of the site will attempt to communicate the importance of these factors, while providing best practice examples of successful projects and how they have navigated the same hurdles.
For many the imperative to share information is a given, but how precisely to move forward is a much more difficult question. Through examination of policy and practice, the path forward should become a bit clearer.
For some, the need to share information is a foregone conclusion. Information sharing can increase effective decision making, aid prosecution in the administration of justice, and empower law enforcement officers and first responders to take appropriate action on the scene.
However information sharing is a powerful tool that must be used wisely. Information in the wrong hands can become a danger to privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights. Even when information is used correctly, the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming and difficult to piece together. Therefore, information must be shared only with appropriate partners, with adequate privacy and security controls, and in such a way that it is practical, actionable, and useful to its end recipients.
Fortunately technology has advanced to the point where there is help available in each of these areas. Data standards such as the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) exist to define a common vocabulary for data that is shared to ensure a common understanding and usage of information across recipients. Architectures such as the Global Reference Architecture (GRA) have been developed to help describe an interoperable way of moving that data from one point to another, and ensure that data is disseminated appropriately. Organizations such as the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) have developed guidelines and recommended policies with regard to security and privacy to ensure appropriate protections are put in place when sharing information between partners.
The White House National Strategy for Information Sharing, published in October 2007, states, “Our success in preventing future terrorist attacks depends upon our ability to gather, analyze, and share information and intelligence regarding those who want to attack us, the tactics that they use, and the targets that they intend to attack.” As we work to combat terrorism, we also find that information sharing plays a critical role in law enforcement as well. Officers working with incomplete criminal history or warrant records may fail to make an arrest, leaving a criminal free to walk the streets. In the courts, a delayed verdict or parole recommendation may result in ineffective management of offenders and suspects. Ineffective sharing of information with prison facilities could mix rival gang members in the same cell, presenting further violence and failed rehabilitation efforts. In the end, information sharing tempered with appropriate guidance from the field makes communities safer. The Office of Justice Programs and its partners work to provide policies that reflect these goals and take advantage of existing technology and standards to start making a difference today.