Thursday, February 19, 2009

Information Sharing: Government vs. Open Source

I had the privilege of spending many hours over the past several days immersed in expert discussion about Information Sharing, from several different perspectives.

In the "open source" Web 2.0 community (at last week's Potomac Techwire Internet Outlook 2009 event), the consensus seems to be that there's a short period of "wait and see" ahead of us, to find out which online information-sharing social media capabilities will become the next big thing...Twitter's very much wait and see, Facebook has excellent fundamentals and a strong core framework, and 20-somethings on Myspace are increasingly "icked out" by the quickly growing population of 40-somethings. Everyone in the room raised their hands when asked if they were on LinkedIn. Regardless of the platform and tool, one thing was certain; online information-sharing and user-defined data aggregation (i.e. mashups) is in full-blown growth mode, and privacy is dead. That's right, according to a panelist, no one these days "should have any expectation at all of online data privacy, and should behave accordingly".

In contrast to this statement, the esteemed panelists at yesterdays AFCEA breakfast on information-sharing and collaboration, from DHS, ICE, EPA, DoS and other government agencies, led a discussion on the rapidly-developing information-sharing standards, architecture frameworks and collaborative initiatives - all within very controlled privacy policies and programs. By many laws and regulations, personal privacy and its protection is a very serious matter within the firewalls of the Federal Government - but the "experiments" happening in many areas concerning use of social media are quickly mandating re-examination of privacy policies and associated security control mechanisms. There exist many very successful information-sharing programs in DHS, for example, that leverage user-defined collaborative tools and Enterprise 2.0 techniques (including the Homeland Security Information Network,, or HSIN, and TSA and FEMA's use of blogging and stakeholder feedback tools). However, there aren't yet many examples of "open-source" social media utilization occuring across the public-government security boundary; on most networks, access to tools like Facebook or Twitter is prevented.

Perhaps the most promising potential enabler of public-government information sharing initiatives is the "National Information Exchange Model" (or NIEM). This is a program originally created at the Department of Justice to standardize reporting and communication of data regarding law enforcement; it's now run by the DHS to serve as a standards framework for message exchange across the entire Homeland Security community - including all security echelons, and potential communication across the firewalls of government. Tuesday's "RFI day" for the software vendor community interested in assisting this effort was well-attended; representatives from every major software company and Homeland Security systems integration and technology consulting community were there, from IBM and Microsoft to Deloitte and Blackstone Technology Group (an SOA/ESB and Information Sharing technology consulting company). As a very well-supported standard and program, this should rapidly enable semantic data exchange among all government entities, as well as set the stage for standardized exposure or consumption of open-source data. Vint Serf himself (a.k.a. the "Father of the Internet", now Chief Evangelist for Google) noted, as the keynote speaker, that the NIEM program showed great promise, and was likely the kind of initiative that would greatly assist in conquering some of the next "big issues" coming along that he was working on, including "cloud-computing-to-cloud-computing" integration and expansion of the Internet to outer space...along with our so-called "private" information now controlled by Facebook.

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