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D3.6: Study on ID Documents

Databases for Biometric Reference Data  Title:
 Value and Use of Privacy Enhancement Technologies


Interoperability Aspects

This section starts by examining interoperability and its relation to identity and privacy from a rather theoretical perspective before it focuses on the current situation of eID interoperability in Europe and other countries world-wide. A theoretical perspective at this stage facilitates an in-depth understanding of the issues around interoperability.  



Even though some define interoperability in order to describe the capability of different programs to read and write the same file formats and utilise the same protocols, such a definition is considerably skewed and prejudiced; the term interoperability itself lacks a dictionary definition (Payette et al. 1999).

Early academic publications on interoperability investigate the domain from a strong technical point of view (Miller et al. 2001). They typically explore interoperability within a defined scope, such as within a particular community (e.g., scientific communities, government agencies, commercial bodies), or within a specific organisation of information (e.g., software, electronic reports, technical records), or even within a particular information technology area (e.g., digital imaging, data visualisation, relational databases). Technical interoperability is concerned with the connection and compatibility of computer systems over networks and hence the right choice of IT artefacts grants a successful interconnection but still, the technical aspect of interoperability might be comparatively easy to achieve.

Studies on interoperability in government information systems address the challenges of generating a general structure for information access and integration across many of the different domains. A common goal of these efforts is to facilitate different government agencies, with different types of knowledge and solutions, to achieve an agreed level of information sharing and, through the process of computation and aggregation, to create new and more powerful types of information (Payette et al. 1999).

Interoperability within the context of pan-European information systems does not only mean that there is the potential for increased collaboration between national government offices to simplify transactions with citizens, but also the potential for improving relationships with business, adapt to a globalised and mobile world, and support entrepreneurship. It also requires the willingness to create more efficient cross-country processes to lower administrative costs, to consolidate the alliance between the EU Member States and to avoid the time-consuming redundancies of data between administrative agencies. Interoperability is more than a simple connection between different computers on a wired or wireless network to transport digital data. It is also the ability to share data, information and knowledge between different administrations, involving machine to machine, man to machine and human interactions. It also means a reorganisation of working processes, semantic compatibility and sharing of information in order to enable the seamless delivery of eServices (European Commission 2004b, Kinder 2003).



Figure : Modified TFI model, influenced by the Open Systems Framework of Social Interaction


Despite the fact that the last definition incorporates a strong human element in relation to interoperability, it is still lacking the socio-cultural attributes such as the meaning of data or differences of information related to diverse cultures. With his Open System Framework of Social Interaction (illustrated in ), Ouksel calls for a strong semantic approach to interoperability in information systems (Ouksel 1999). It is argued that current theories are insufficient to account for a realistic view of social environments. They are specifically inadequate for supporting heterogeneous information in terms of internal semantic, pragmatic, syntactic and the complexity of the social world.

Semantic interoperability is a topic of extreme complexity by itself and consequently many different approaches towards tackling such complexity can be found. In the following section two approaches will be discussed: an approach from a technical and one from a social network point of view. 

The approach to semantic interoperability from a technical point of view ensures that agents and other system components can make “sense” of the resources encountered. Its objective is comprehensible to all applications, including those that were created separately, or not developed for this purpose (Klischewski 2000). The semantic compatibility between different systems facilitates the automation of information. It requires agreement on the format in which information is transmitted. To enable the translation of information between the systems, a single language to describe the structure and the underlying data must be defined. As it currently stands, the most plausible universal language to be used is XML (European Commission 2004a).

The semantic interoperability approached from a social network point of view ensures that the systems can effectively relate to the world view of the local actors in charge (Stamper et al. 2000). Ouksel and Sheth (1999) propose to research real-world semantics with the framework of “context”. By doing so, the authors believe in capturing critical components of semantic like differences in human interpretation, the dissimilar use of information and the role or use of ontologies.

Organisational compatibility allows the sharing of information stored in different data storages and the ability to understand the meaning of the information contained (Ouksel 1999). Realini proposes analysing pan-European G2G interoperability with a three layer framework: technical interoperability, semantic interoperability and organisational interoperability (Realini, 2004). This described methodology is very similar to the TFI model, which is the underlying scientific approach of this chapter. The TFI model looks on interoperability from a technical, formal and informal perspective (Backhouse 2000). shows the merger of these three methodologies just described. It highlights the common emphasis on the socio-cultural domain of interoperability, particularly in connection with the complexity of the government sector. Backhouse (Backhouse 2005) came to a similar conclusion after reviewing more than 100 interoperability and eID related papers and conclude semantic being virtually a melting pot for issues from the three layers of the TFI model.



Databases for Biometric Reference Data  fidis-wp3-del3.6.study_on_id_documents_03.sxw  Value and Use of Privacy Enhancement Technologies
Denis Royer 13 / 56