Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eight Rules of E-Filing: Rule #7

E-Filing Should Support Government to Court Communications

The vast majority of E-filing systems focus upon civil case matters.  While there are many reasons I believe that besides vendor funding, this focus greatly reduces project political risk to the courts.  Judges have more discretion in managing civil cases and the parties can agree to work together to support new systems and procedures for everyone’s benefit.  In fact, this is how court E-filing started in 1990 in the Delaware Chancery Court.

But criminal and other cases involving human services and other government departments and programs are a different animal for E-filing.  In criminal cases the attorneys are continually looking for procedural mistakes and other errors in order dismiss cases and free or reduce the penalties for their clients.  In other words, the attorneys truly embrace their adversarial role with court procedures as well as the opposing side.  As a result, and along with funding challenges, there are only a handful of criminal case E-filing systems in the USA today.

This is slowly changing.  In the past decade there has a massive amount of work being done to develop data sharing standards under the National Information Exchange Model (www.niem.gov) umbrella.  NIEM being a criminal justice focused program has supported standards work to overcome the barriers to data sharing and access. 

And isn’t E-filing data sharing?  Of course it is.

In particular courts should become familiar with the Global FederateIdentity and Privilege Management Initiative (GFIPM).  As stated in the Operational Policies and Procedures document:

The GFIPM framework provides the justice community and partner organizations with a standards-based approach for implementing federated identity.  Common use of these standards across federation systems is essential to their interoperability.  Leveraging the Global Justice XML and National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), a standard set of XML-based elements and attributes (referred to collectively as GFIPM metadata) about a federation user’s identities, privileges, and authentication can be universally communicated.”

The document continues with the “Value to the Justice Community”:

1.      User Convenience:   Users can access multiple services using a common set of standardized security credentials, making it easier to sign on and access applications and to manage account information.
2.      Interoperability:   By specifying common security standards and framework, applications can adopt interoperable security specifications for authentication and authorization.
3.      Cost-Effectiveness:   GFIPM facilitates information sharing by using a standardized XML-based credential that includes information about each user’s identity and privileges.  This reduces the cost and complexity of identity administration required to access applications and vet users.
4.      Privacy:   GFIPM can reduce the propagation of personally identifiable information, reduce the redundant capture and storage of personal identity information, and depersonalize data exchanges across domains using privacy metadata.
5.      Security:   A federation model can improve the security of local identity information and data in applications by providing a standardized approach to online identities between agencies or applications."

But let’s do a little more analysis of the “fear factors” that are particularly inhibiting criminal case E-filing.

First, as noted many times in this blog are the issues of trust and validation.  Suffice to say my view is that the electronic records are safer and easier to validate than their paper counterparts.  And has been written about in the NCSC's Future Trends Report and elsewhere, e-signatures provide massively more control over information in comparison to paper documents.

Second, what about defendants and case parties required to physically sign documents?  We all use signature pads at the retail store and rapid delivery systems so that is one answer.  But there can also be limited use of paper that in turn is scanned (I would include a form ID number to facilitate registration in the CMS) as was implemented in Maricopa County Superior Court in 2009 (seepage 2) as another solution.

Third, what about systems failure?  This problem already happens with the current physical documentation system when natural disasters or fires occur.  And as CTB readers know, automated systems have the ability to provide multiple points of redundancy that is otherwise cost prohibitive. 

And fourth, government-to-government systems should easier to implement because there are many fewer systems to connect and secure for the majority of cases.  Using GFIPM and other NIEM standards as design foundations, such systems can now be created with certainty.

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