What is data sharing?

Apr 22, 2015

Government Button.jpgThe U.S. House is expected to pass a bipartisan bill that will help combat cyberattacks, according to The New York Times. The Protecting Cyber Networks Act has already garnered the support of the president. The bill aims to push private companies to share information about hacking threats with other companies and the government.

This piece of legislation arrives at a controversial time. On one hand, the government wants to better protect companies and government agencies from the increasing number of cyberthreats, some of which have led to massive data breaches and have financially hurt citizens. Yet multiple advocacy groups say these cybersecurity bills often intrude on privacy rights. A number of civil liberties organizations and security experts sent a letter to House legislators asking them to reconsider their position. The coalition is worried the data sharing may lead to law enforcement using cyberthreat data to prosecute noncyber crimes.

Though this bill affects private companies, it does bring up the growing practice of data sharing. Governments actually share data all the time, as it is beneficial to all levels, from federal down to local.

Data sharing
According to the Sunlight Foundation, data sharing between governments is vastly different than data sharing between research institutions. Whereas sensitive research data is reviewed by Institutional Review Boards, government sharing abides by formal and informal means. Typically, government agencies enter into a Memorandums of Understanding, otherwise known as an agreement between two parties. For example, in July 2010, the Department of Defense and Department of Energy signed a MOU to allow collaboration between the agencies to develop framework that will transition the U.S. to a low-carbon economy. The agreement stated, “The Parties acknowledge the significant positive collaboration that already exists between DOE and DOD and intend through this MOU to strengthen and broaden that cooperation.” Such agreements are needed between government agencies due to privacy laws restricting the sharing of data.

Why share data?
Reasons vary for governments and agencies wanting to share data. In some instances, state and local governments may want to evaluate public service funds. Other times, data sharing is necessary for a comprehensive overview of certain areas. For instance, data sharing within juvenile justice is prevalent across the U.S. The Juvenile Justice Geography, Policy and Practice and Statistics found 27 states shared data facilitated through the use of statewide information systems.

Child welfare in Colorado, for example, is overseen by the Department of Human Services, Division of Child Welfare but administered at the county level. The Department of Human Services, Division of Youth Corrections, administers juvenile justice. The two agencies share data to collaborate and create initiatives to better help the youth within Colorado’s child welfare system.

Health care is another industry with an increased emphasis on data sharing. Connecticut’s Department of Corrections reached an MOU with the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange to better support inmates’ health. The agreement read, “DOC agrees to share incarceration data with the Exchange to enable it to conduct required verifications for eligibility…” These are only a few examples of data sharing between agencies, almost any type of data can be shared at various government levels.

Keep in mind all this data needs to be secure and maintained. The slightest downtime or disaster can hamper important data sharing agreements between governmental agencies. The proper federal IT services will set up the infrastructure needed to handle, protect and maintain large volumes of data.



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