Social Informatics, 9/11 and ICJS: an opportunity for research

From: Social Informatics: Principles, Theory, and Practices

(Sawyer and Tyworth)

We see integrated criminal justice systems (ICJS) as one area that presents a significant opportunity for social informaticists to both develop theory and contribute to practice. E-Government, or digital governance, is both an emerging area of scholarship and a fast evolving phenomenon in society. This is particularly true for issues of law enforcement and national defense where there is increasing pressure to computerize or modernize existing information and communication technology (ICT) given the recent attention to international terrorism (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, 2004). And, for at least the United States, it may be that there is no other area where the consequences of adhering to the deterministic view of ICT are as potentially catastrophic. In spite of these risks, the deterministic model continues to be advocated.

For example, in his article on improving intelligence analyzing systems Strickland (Strickland, 2004) focused exclusively on technological change as the solution to the problems of information sharing among agencies. Strickland identifies data disintegration, problems in analytical methodology, and technological obsolescence as the primary areas of concern. Yet, as Richard Shelby noted in his addendum to the Senate Select Committee investigating pre- and post-9/11 intelligence (Shelby, 2002):

The CIA’s chronic failure, before September 11, to share with other agencies the names of known Al-Qa’ida terrorists who it knew to be in the country allowed at least two such terrorists the opportunity to live, move, and prepare for the attacks without hindrance from the very federal officials whose job it is to find them. Sadly, the CIA seems to have concluded that the maintenance of its information monopoly was more important that stopping terrorists from entering or operating within the United States.

Though Senator Shelby’s language is polemic, the message is clear: without significant changes to the organizational cultures, simply implementing new technological systems or updating existing ones will in many instances fail to achieve policy goals. It is exactly this type of problem for which social informatics theory is particularly applicable. An e-Government policy area directly related to the issue of intelligence sharing is the problem of integrating information systems among law enforcement and criminal justice agencies. Prior to, but especially after 9/11, there has been a significant movement within government to integrate ICT across law enforcement and criminal justice agency boundaries in order to facilitate cross-agency communication and information sharing. See for example (General Accountability Office, 2003).

Criminal justice information systems have historically been developed in an ad hoc manner, tailored to the needs of the particular agency, and with minimal support resources (either fiscal or expertise) (Dunworth, 2000, 2005; Sawyer, Tapia, Pesheck, & Davenport, 2004). As a result federal and state governments have begun the process of trying to develop and implement integrated criminal justice systems that allow agencies to share information across organizational boundaries. Examples of such systems are Pennsylvania’s Justice Network (JNet), the Washington D.C. metro area’s Capital Wireless Integration Network (CapWIN), and the San Diego region’s Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS) among others.

We find ICES s to be ideal opportunities to conduct social informatics research for three reasons. First, law enforcement is a socially complex domain comprised of and embedded in multiple social institutions (Sawyer, Tapia, Pesheck, & Davenport, 2004). Such institutions include organizational practice and culture, societal norms and values, and regulatory requirements. Second, law enforcement agencies have long been adopters of ICT to the point where ICT are now so ubiquitous that they are viewed as integral to policing (Hoey, 1998). This remains true in spite of a decidedly mixed record of success (Baird & Barksdale, 2003; Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2002). Third, the historical practice of ad hoc and siloed systems development suggests that law enforcement is an area where new systems development approaches are needed.


About davidnemer

Assistant Professor in the School of Information Science at the University of Kentucky.

Posted on September 11, 2011, in 9/11, ICT. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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