Draft approach to data classification moving forward

Justice Department's NIEM Web site

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RICHMOND, Va. — The Homeland Security Department is circulating a draft approach to tagging information in a consistent way across all sectors of government.

Carter Morris, DHS’ director of information sharing and knowledge management, said today the draft has been reviewed by a private-sector panel of experts and now the working group, which also includes officials from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director for National Intelligence, is finalizing it before presenting it to President Bush in the next month or so.

“This is not an easy thing to do,” Morris said after a panel discussion on information sharing at the 27th annual Management of Change conference, sponsored by the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council. “We are proposing a new system and the governance process by which we decide how to classify the data.”

Morris wouldn’t offer too many details on the document because it is still a draft, but he did say the approach would have a defined number of categories that data could be put into. He said one such category may be controlled information, while another could be controlled, enhanced data.

“The big thing is understanding how the data falls in each category,” Morris added.

While DHS works on this approach, the Justice Department last week issued Version 2.0 of the National Information Exchange Model. NIEM will enable cross-domain information sharing so the sender and receiver understand the information in the same way.

Kshemendra Paul, DOJ’s chief architect, said now that Version 2.0 is available, the goal now is to implement it nationwide.

“We are seeing an uptick across the state and local governments and the federal environment,” he said. “We’ve gone through a lot of change and we are working to generate value. We want the adopters to get business value, which means greater degree of interoperability and building an information exchange at a lower cost.”

Paul cited several examples of states just beginning to incorporate NIEM. He said Florida has implemented NIEM at its statewide and regional fusion centers, while New York state police use it across the Criminal Justice Information Sharing network.

The classification of data and implementation of NIEM are two ways the federal government is improving information sharing, but Mark Marshall, chief of police in Smithfield, Va., said it isn’t and hasn’t been enough.

“I’ve barely changed my presentation in four years because that is just how much things haven’t changed,” he said. “We still are unable to connect the dots.”

Marshall said he mainly blames politics and funding. Of those two, he said politics is the harder to solve.

“We need a federal solution, a national architecture to get this done,” he said. “We are starting to see state and regional systems creeping up because the federal government has been too slow.”

Marshall said he has hope, especially after Justice awarded a contract to Raytheon in February to build out the National Data Exchange and the Regional Data Exchange systems.

Morris said information sharing is on the right track despite the slow progress.

He said DHS’ OneNet network will put all data on the same network, and the agency will conduct a survey to figure out what data exists, where it is and who can benefit from accessing it.

“We are trying to catch up because the money was not there on the front end when DHS was created,” Morris said. “We are starting to expand DHS’ secret network to state and local law enforcement and we need to understand the business needs in each domain.”

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