Data Sharing

The terrorist attacks that occurred Sept. 11 have sparked a government wake-up call for information sharing and data integration among disparate law enforcement systems.

Collecting information is not the problem; individual agencies such as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement have databases brimming with details of potential suspects. The real sticking point lies in aggregating, analysing and sharing that data in real time so that authorities can act on a moment’s notice.

“It is no longer about apps but the ability to share information between applications so that appropriate actions and decisions can be made. If we had that, it would be a safer world for all of us – at least one more layer to trap [terrorists],” said Jim Demetriades, CEO of SeeBeyond Technology Corp., a data-integration company in Monrovia, Calif.

Technology to fuse the data among databases is readily available from software vendors, but adoption has been hampered by agencies that are loath to open up their databases to one another, observers noted.

Data aggregation has challenged the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency technologically because of the sheer magnitude of the data the agency captures from eavesdropping on e-mail traffic, cell phones, satellite phones, and other sources, said Roland Schumann, a former military intelligence officer who provided intelligence to the CIA and Drug Enforcement Agency.

“The main issue [the CIA] is dealing with is data overload,” said Schumann, now COO of SwapDrive Inc., a Washington IT company that offers secure off-site data storage to clients. “They’re using a thesaurus that tracks words that mean something to intelligence officers. It’s not as easy as looking for the words bomb, combustion, and explosion. The folks that we’re dealing with are more sophisticated than that. They will use euphemisms, and change them.”

Joseph Foley, CTO of Synera, a Bloomington, Minn.-based company that reduces the size of huge databases by storing only the unique values and adding pointers, says the problem is not technical. In one case, Foley said that Synera was working with state, county and local police departments and that the project failed because the three departments were unwilling to share data.

“It’s extremely realistic from a technology perspective. Politically, it’s a different issue,” Foley said.