National 'Information Architecture' Grows Out of Criminal Justice Network

INDIANAPOLIS -- A national initiative to develop a way for government criminal justice organizations to share information electronically eventually could lead to a national "information architecture" available to agencies across all fields and at all levels of government, according to top state officials.

A committee under the National Association of State Information Resources (NASIRE), which represents the top information technology executives in state government, began to develop the strategy earlier this year after receiving a grant from the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs.

The strategy calls for organizations in the criminal justice arena to begin working out specifications for sharing information, based largely on existing and emerging Internet standards. The initiative also will require these organizations -- including the state and local police departments, the courts and federal law enforcement agencies -- to work together to define standard formats for specific criminal justice documents, such as police incident reports, arrest reports and court schedules.

Information sharing in any field is the basic principle supporting the initiative, according to members of NASIRE's Search committee, which is heading up the project. "Never in the formative stages of this program was it intended we would keep this justice-focused," said Gerry Wethington, director of the information systems division of Missouri's State Highway Patrol and Missouri's Search representative. "We are talking about giving our CIOs the ability to take an architecture and move it across the disciplines they have responsibility for," Wethington said.

Key standards identified by the committee include the TCP/IP networking standard; Extensible Markup Language, or XML, which defines standard formats for Internet-based transactions; and the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, which provides a means of defining what information or services individual users can access.

The committee specifically is developing a strategy that will be able to support information sharing on a "very, very large scale," said Bob Marx, a senior system specialist for the committee.

On the other hand, the committee also is developing a strategy that will be relatively easy to undertake, Marx said. In the past, many such initiatives have been "big ideas" that never got off the ground. "There is not very much complexity...[just] tedious, methodical detailed system and data analysis -- things we know how to do and just avoid doing because they are boring," Marx said.

NASIRE's executive committee approved the strategy this month and will send it out to its members next month, with plans to finalize the strategy by year's end.

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