State borders pose no obstacle to info sharing

On Oct. 21 Office of Homeland Security Chief Information Officer Steve Cooper joined officials from seven states in State College, Pa., to discuss how they might share criminal justice information with each other and the U.S. government. The site was a natural choice because Pennsylvania boasts one of the nation's most advanced criminal justice information sharing systems with its Justice Network.

The meeting was "the first the states knew anything about what each other was doing," said Pennsylvania CIO Charles Gerhards.

Following the initial meeting, the states agreed to meet again in December to discuss a pilot project that would be a first step toward a regional justice information sharing system, Gerhards said.

This type of regional or multistate approach to information sharing would significantly enhance the value of Pennsylvania's Justice Network and similar efforts in other states as well, he said.

Gerhards said he hopes that whatever the seven states eventually produce can be used as a model for other regions to consider. The seven states in the Mid-Atlantic Consortium are Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The consortium's work is just the kind of grassroots approach to homeland security at the state and local government level that Cooper is pushing states to adopt. His vision is to establish several multistate systems throughout the country for various aspects of homeland security that will evolve into a "national" system, rather than a "federal" system, according to industry experts.

In another corner of the nation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is spearheading an effort to create a multistate intelligence information sharing system, Cooper said.

The Multistate Coalition Information Sharing Initiative would enable state and local law enforcement agencies to share intelligence information through a computer network.

The multistate project, which was conceived after Sept. 11, 2001, has so far received about $4 million in grant money from the Department of Justice, said Bob Cummings, FDLE's assistant commissioner.

The first phase of the project is to connect the states to the network, Cummings said. Once the states are connected, they will be able to connect up to 850 authorized users within each state during the project's second phase.

The third and final phase of the project would connect the participants to a data warehouse that pairs public records information and state records information, he said.

The network is scheduled to go live in the first quarter of 2003, Cummings said.

The states participating in the initiative are California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

The FBI eventually will share intelligence information through the system with state and local officials. When that happens, it will give the participating states "a very robust and powerful information tool," Cummings said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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