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Right information at the right time

Kshemendra Paul
Kshemendra Paul, Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment, US

The purpose of information sharing is to make proactive decisions to protect the US citizen

Information sharing is essential. My office is part of the US Government’s response to the tragic events of 9/11. We recognize that different government agencies could better collaborate and cooperate through sharing information, not only at the federal level, but with state and local agencies, and our partners in the private sector. We work across five communities: law enforcement, intelligence, defence, foreign affairs, and homeland security. We take a standards and architecture approach to information sharing and safeguarding the privacy, rights and civil liberties of the people. Also, critical to the progress we have made is an inclusive open governance process which brings different stakeholders together, so they can agree on approaches and standards to improve information sharing.

Open data is essential

Imagine a continuum where information is created, collected, and processed. It may have degrees of sensitivity — there may be privacy issues implicated. We look at these kind of upstream issues as the place where information sharing has to happen first; the standards development has to happen here. Now, as that information can be aggregated and statistically summarized, it becomes easier to imagine how it can be released into the public domain through open data solutions. The key though is that continuum, and when the data is put onto the open Web, you want to be able to have consistent standards and governance for that process.

The purpose of information sharing is to make proactive decisions to protect the US citizens and to prevent harm. So, our key for the national strategy is to provide the right information at the right time to the right person without any technological barriers. All we need to keep in mind is the comprehensive regime of accountability to prevent the misuse of that information.

Interoperable solutions

We work across five communities — law enforcement, intelligence, defence, foreign affairs, and homeland security. We collaborate across the entire federal government with our state and local partners, and also our partners in the private sector. A key focus is on terrorism-related information. But, the only way to do this effectively and on a large scale is to work with standards organizations, working with our partners with the industry, working to encapsulate the information sharing and safeguarding best practices, including geospatial information sharing support to make it accessible for interoperable solutions.

Basically, we form the nexus between the national security and public safety. In the US, there are 18,000 police departments, 90% of which have less than 50 sworn officers. That’s a very large degree of fragmentation, pointing to the need for standardized approaches, and common solutions, particularly pertaining to technology trends and migration to the Cloud and mobile. It is critical to have common approaches, and we are looking at this in a holistic way, even as we empower local decision-making.

Bridging the gaps for information sharing

A critical component of this mission is to advance privacy, civil rights and civil liberties. But, at the same time, we are committed to bridge the gaps in the existing systems and databases, harmonize policy, and drive interoperability across the board in a distributed,  decentralized and coordinated way. In my domain, terrorism, homeland security and other incident responses require sustainability and collaborative approaches that are based on agility and coordination across multiple agencies, both private and public.

We are supporting our partners to build information sharing environments. We are bringing together mission partners in this interoperability vision, focusing on the white spaces between agencies, helping to modify their enterprise architectures on the edge to effectively share information across their federal counter-terrorism ISE.

Each of our partners has myriad other missions apart from counter-terrorism and homeland security. No agency wants to fragment their enterprise architecture by doing interoperability in a one-off way. Frankly, that’s an oxymoron. Interoperability has to be cross-cutting. So, all of our agencies are working on mission-centric ISEs in their domain areas. This is a part of the power of the information sharing environment approach through common standards. The idea is that by aligning with the industry and leveraging best practices, you can get a return on the investment more broadly.

We currently have initiatives with our state partners to support them to build state-wide information sharing environments spanning various activities at the state level with a prime focus on law enforcement, counter-terrorism and homeland security. The core to our approach is to better package interoperability standards and capabilities, so that the folks who are solving a point-to-point problem can do it in a way that buys them leverage to bootstrap into other information sharing environments.

Capstone committee

So, how do we do this? There is a capstone committee called the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council, which is a part of the Department of Justice’s Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative. All of the national practice association’s law enforcement and homeland security members sit on that committee along with principals from core federal national security public safety agencies. It is the capstone where we are coordinating things based on capabilities with fusion centers across the country, privacy policies, etc.

We work with several international standards organizations, including the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC); Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards; the Object Management Group; and several government standards organizations like the National Institute of Standards and Technology; the National Information Exchange Model, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Policy Board, and so on. The key focus of this work is to collaborate around what we call as Project Interoperability. It is the distillation of our enterprise architecture framework, including our alignment with geospatial technique sponsored by the Federal Geographic Data Committee and standards by the OGC.

Project Interoperability 2.0

More broadly, these are our tools — some are frameworks, some are standards, some are engineering efforts, some are guidance, and some are industry-based assertion of conformance to interoperability profiles. Going forward into Project Interoperability 2.0, we are focusing on how to better engineer these packages to make them more accessible. We are doing that through security constraints, privacy constraints and building a common profile for describing information exchanges.

Geospatial technology is a cross-cutter across our interoperability, our assertion-based architecture. The key idea here is to define your interoperability requirements in a way that they are testable, assertions that are atomic, engineered, and where you can drive a certification of conformance through an audit process.

Kshemendra Paul
Program Manager,
Information Sharing Environment, US