I wrote here in June about the need for the UK government to work towards decentralized government databases using shared data schemas to allow information exchange between them in a secure, auditable system of information exchange. This would allow us to obtain the benefits of joined-up government systems, while protecting us (at least to some extent) from the risks to civil liberties of allowing the government to build a single 'Big Brother' database which stores all your personal information and to which government employees would have access.
I discovered today that the US government is developing a National Information Exchange Model. This is precisely the sort of XML schema for data exchange betwen government systems that I had in mind.
Such an information exchange schema would need to be accompanied by the other components of the system recommended in my earlier post – particularly a secure message layer, auditing of information exchanged across systems, and the right of all citizens to see all information held about them and a log of all accesses to that information by government systems.
The US effort is, rather chillingly, a collaborative effort by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. But since they are some way down the road (they have recently released a beta of the standard, including no fewer than nine proposed namespaces) it would make sense for this to form the basis of an international effort to develop a shared information scheme. After all, the information needs of governments cannot vary all that much between countries, and such a shared system would facilitate international cooperation (for example, for cooperation in criminal investigations, tax and immigration).
At risk of upsetting the anti-Tranzi brigade, it seems to me that an international system, agreed transparently and using open standards for information schema and messaging, could in principle be more likely to protect civil liberties and be more efficient than a series of unconnected information sharing systems developed by national governments.