From an application landscape to an information landscape

The Amsterdam Police Force is currently developing a data integration application under the name TopicView. This application ensures that highly important data can be shared among law enforcement agencies, based on the use of Topic Maps, a semantic modeling technique. Since this technology, which is designed to provide access to information, data and research, is still relatively unknown in the Netherlands, Gabriel Hopmans will also give a general introduction to the technology. The examples cited have been taken from Dutch politics.

Author: Gabriel Hopmans

The need for a single Information Landscape

Several years ago, the Amsterdam Amstelland police district launched the TopicView project, based on the need for a technology that would facilitate searching across multiple systems, one that was topic-based rather than application-specific. There have been some reports in the news recently that it is very difficult to share data among police districts. There are myriad applications in use, and essentially the principle of ‘knowledge is power’ applies. For virtually all data elements, there is a need to specify who is and who isn’t authorized to access and share them. Information relating to a variety of topics has been fragmented and stored in many different systems: many individuals belong to several different groups, play different roles, and can sometimes be involved in events that, in retrospect, can provide more information value than initially assumed. In addition, there are many disjointed textual descriptions that could potentially be valuable but that have not been ‘enhanced’ (i.e. modified so as to make them more useful). One police report, for example, notes that a certain individual has ties to members of a specific group, while this is not classified as such in the registration system. Furthermore, a large amount of data is managed separately in different locations. Analysts must be able to search more quickly and efficiently in order to perform duties such as preparing management reports: spending 30 minutes working on a case that is fragmented across multiple systems is inefficient if this work mainly involves copying and pasting.

This has also created the need to use data for a greater variety of purposes, for example to record specific claims or suspicions in a system and to share these among a specific group of colleagues, with the objective of following up on them or reinforcing the suspicions in question. Claims must be easy to confirm or reject (based on sources and under the law), and Topic Maps should be able to fulfill these needs in whole or in part. The Semantic Standard Topic Maps is explained in an appendix to this article. The name used for the new system, TopicView, is obviously inspired by this standard. [i]

TopicView should add the following value to Law Enforcement Agencies, in addition to existing systems:

  1. Making cross-connections
  2. Facilitating semantic queries
  3. Integration with external systems and sources
  4. Adding modifications/updates
  5. Ensuring that only specific individuals can view certain information and data

‘Semantic queries’ refers to the fact that the meaning of the search is also incorporated into the query. If you enter the query ‘Hopmans in Amsterdam during period t1-t2’, this then includes the information that Hopmans may be an individual,  and that Amsterdam is a city that also has ties to the capital, North Holland etc.

The situation in Law Enforcement used to be such that, if an analyst searched for data regarding all the events relating to a specific individual, the names of the individuals who had been involved in the same events, the objects or vehicles linked to these individuals, etc., this analyst was compelled to use three different systems and integrate the results manually. This is obviously due to the fact that the systems were designed with a specific purpose in mind, have a specific scope, and, in many cases, different owners as well.

[i] Based on an idea by Paul Elzinga, Researcher and Project Leader at Amsterdam Amstelland police district.

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