Government in privacy threat

A massive data warehouse intended to centralise police and justice information may also include information from the health, education and welfare sectors, raising major issues of data sharing and privacy.

A massive data warehouse intended to centralise police and justice information may also include information from the health, education and welfare sectors, raising major issues of data sharing and privacy.

This recommendation is one of many in a State Services Commission report into information technology requirements for police and the related justice sector agencies in the wake of the failed Incis project.

The project team report, dated December 1999 and posted on the SSC Web site in February, appears to step outside the parameters of the police and justice sector requirements with the recommendation.

A steering group, convened by the deputy State Services Commissioner, Ross Tanner, and consisting of representatives from Treasury, Police, Courts, Justice and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, has overseen the project team report.

When Computerworld raised the issue with Tanner, he wasn't aware of the plans to include information from the health, education and welfare sectors. He insisted the recommendation is not one of high priority.

"There would have to be some pretty strong safeguards if we were to go down that track," he says. "Information could only be shared where it didn't cause privacy issues.

"The intention is in no way to match individual information. It's for policy purposes to get access to demographic information."

He says the EIS (enterprise information store) is intended primarily for Police and Justice but that other agencies might want to have linkages.

IT Minister Paul Swain says these are issues that will move to the forefront as the government shifts to an electronic format.

No announcements will be made till after the Budget, he says.

The project team's requirements, initially, were to develop a high-level assessment of alternative options for meeting police and the courts' IT needs, and the implications for other justice sector agencies; to prepare a risk assessment and management strategy for the chosen solution; and develop an implementation plan and timetable.

Among the main points the report makes are:

  • In police, the future IT contribution to meeting business needs and other organisational initiatives can be met more effectively and less expensively through an open systems environment operating in Unix and NT than through Incis and the IBM environment.

  • It will be important for Police to realise the significant advantages of moving from the IBM environment to an open systems environment as soon as possible.

  • The development of business applications should be incremental, evolutionary and modular.

There is a need for Police to develop more financial awareness of actions being taken [and] a need for greater coordination of national and regional IT initiatives.

The report says past planning practice in Police had been to develop an information systems strategic plan and for that to stand as a separate document from other business plans. It recommends that the processes should be integrated.

It identifies having on staff the people with the necessary technical competencies to contribute to, manage and evaluate the work of consultant partners.

"When IBM walked away from the Incis project, it was evident that Police did not have on staff people with the necessary competencies to deliver the required functionality of the applications."

Police should not proceed with any implementation of Option C of Incis and should remove the IBM infrastructure and applications, the report says. "The IBM mainframe and the related systems do not afford the flexibility afforded by open systems and, costing some $14 million a year to operate and maintain, are expensive." The report suggests a comparable open system capability would cost less than $5 million annually.

It recommends establishing an enterprise information store - an expansion of the data warehouse concept in that all of the base information in the enterprise is stored within a single repository. Further, there should be an investigation into the feasibility of establishing an EIS between Police, the Justice sector and agencies such as Statistics, Health, Education and Welfare.

Four tasks related to the IBM environment are identified:

  • Sale of the IBM mainframe.

  • Replacing the three IBM applications.

  • Replacing the OS/2 server environment with Microsoft Server NT.

  • Reviewing the intention to provide email facilities using Lotus Notes.

"It is possible that there are significant savings to be achieved - such that not only should the essential modifications of infrastructure be largely or totally funded from within the savings, but it can be reasonably expected that funds already allocated for expenditure in 1999/2000 can be applied to these priority tasks, including the necessary new system development initiatives."

The report also looks at the way forward for Courts and other Justice sector agencies.

To replace the Inslaw software, which cost $NZ2.4 million before it was abandoned, the requirements are being split into two separate applications - one for collections and the other for Courts case management. A proposal for a custom-built application for collections has been prepared and approved, and a separate business case is being developed for the case management application.

"The Wanganui information facility (Law Enforcement System - LES) is, and will remain, basically sound. There is no need to panic in this regard. It offers reliability, stability and familiarity, and could serve the needs of the sector for some years," the report says.

The recommendations are for negotiations on the resourcing and responsibilities for maintaining the functionality of LES on the Wanganui computer; and that the work done by the Justice Sector Information Committee on data and program structures, and migration, be continued; and recommendations be developed on the investment needed to assist future migration to new platforms.

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