STATE OF WISCONSIN
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
J.B. VAN HOLLEN
Raymond P. Taffora
Deputy Attorney General
114 East, State Capitol
P.O. Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707-7857
February 16, 2010 OAG-02-10
ReStartDirector of State Courts
16 East, State Capitol
Madison, WI 53702
BodyStart¶ 1. You have requested my opinion regarding electronic transmission of certain confidential case information among clerks of circuit court, county sheriff’s offices, and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) TIME System through two new electronic interfaces involving the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Office of Justice Assistance (“OJA”) Wisconsin Justice Information Sharing Program (“WIJIS”) as a secondary transport system. In my opinion, applicable law permits these electronic transmissions through the new interfaces.
¶ 2. I understand that one of the new interfaces will transmit arrest warrant information to the county sheriff’s office as an arrest warrant is issued by a circuit court using the Consolidated Court Automation Programs system (“CCAP”). The sheriff’s office will add certain information, then transmit the warrant to the TIME System for purposes of notifying law enforcement statewide. When the warrant is executed, the sheriff’s office will use the same interface to transmit service information back to the circuit court. In this opinion, I will refer to this as the “warrant interface.”
¶ 3. The other new interface will perform the same functions for temporary restraining orders and injunctions issued pursuant to Wis. Stat. ch. 813. In this opinion, I will refer to this as the “protection order interface.” CoverSigStart¶ 4. You indicate that the court system transmits other confidential case information through various electronic interfaces with other agencies, but that the warrant interface and the protection order interface differ in one critical aspect from those other interfaces. In addition to transmitting information through CCAP, the warrant interface and the protection order interface also utilize the secondary data transport system operated by WIJIS. Your questions arise because WIJIS does not have express statutory authority to independently obtain certain confidential data that would be transmitted through the warrant interface and the protection order interface.
¶ 5. Understanding how the warrant and protection order interfaces work is necessary to frame my answers to your questions. CCAP Chief Information Officer Jean Bousquet (“Ms. Bousquet”), CCAP Customer Services Manager Andrea Olson (“Ms. Olson”), and WIJIS Program Manager Jeff Sartin (“Mr. Sartin”) provided the following technical information, upon which my answers are based.
¶ 6. CCAP Electronic Interfaces Generally. According to Ms. Bousquet and Ms. Olson, CCAP’s typical data exchanges with a justice system partner through an electronic interface start by establishing the data elements to be shared in incoming and outgoing messages: what information the courts will share electronically with the justice system partner, and what information the justice system partner will share with the courts. CCAP and the justice system partner then create a “schema” describing the structure of the electronic messages that will be used to exchange data. The schema is an organizational plan defining the data elements and attributes that can be included in an electronic message and providing for data verification. A data element is a particular category of information, like a person’s surname. The attributes of a data element describe how the data element will be expressed in an electronic message, such as whether letters or numbers will be used. Extensible Markup Language (“XML”) is used to structure the data elements and attributes in a specific electronic message, consistent with the plan established by the schema.
¶ 7. An electronic interface generally operates by transmitting XML electronic messages through CCAP’s Simple Transport Exchange Protocol (“STEP”) Server, which is part of the court’s secure wide area network. The STEP Server is an automated delivery service for electronic data exchanges; it accommodates the messaging services for all electronic data exchanges between the court system and its justice partners. A useful way to conceptualize the STEP Server is as a post office for electronic data messages.
¶ 8. An electronic data message transmitted through the STEP Server starts with preparation of the message at a sending agency by a computer program called a Publishing Client. The Publishing Client prepares the electronic data message in XML and then sends the message to the STEP Server. The Publishing Client creates and sends electronic data messages automatically when a triggering event occurs in the sending agency’s database, such as issuance of a warrant by a judge. Message queues on the STEP Server hold and route messages for the various receiving agencies.
¶ 9. A receiving agency uses another computer program called a Subscribing Client to acquire the electronic data message from the STEP Server. After acquiring the message from the STEP Server, the Subscribing Client then updates the receiving agency’s database with the information contained in the electronic data message.
¶ 10. CCAP staff support and maintain the STEP Server hardware and its custom software. CCAP staff also troubleshoot transmission problems that arise as electronic data messages move through the data transport system. All CCAP staff and contractors are required to sign CCAP’s Data Access Policy which, among other things, prohibits: (1) viewing any confidential or restricted information stored on any court system database for non-work purposes, or (2) discussing or disclosing any confidential or restricted information except as required for work.
¶ 11. Electronic Interfaces for Arrest Warrants and Protection Orders. The new warrant and protection order interfaces add another component to the typical information flow described above. In addition to routing the electronic data message through CCAP’s STEP Server, it also is routed through WIJIS’ workflow engine (the “WIJIS Workflow Engine”). One way to think of the WIJIS Workflow Engine is as an initial collection point for mail from law enforcement headed to the post office.
¶ 12. According to Mr. Sartin, the WIJIS Workflow Engine is a computer application housed on a dedicated server. The server is physically housed in DOJ’s secure server area. Only a small number of WIJIS computer programmers are authorized to access the server that houses the WIJIS Workflow Engine, Mr. Sartin indicates, and must log in with passwords. These WIJIS personnel must pass the same stringent DOJ background checks as DOJ’s computer services personnel.
¶ 13. Mr. Sartin indicates that the WIJIS Workflow Engine provides a uniform interface for the diverse records management systems used at various law enforcement agencies, and ensures that electronic data messages are sent securely. In the warrant and protection order interfaces, according to Ms. Bousquet, the electronic data message created by a law enforcement agency when a triggering event occurs is routed to the WIJIS Workflow Engine. The WIJIS Workflow Engine forwards the electronic data message to the message queue on CCAP’s STEP Server for delivery to the court. Conversely, an electronic data message from a court to a law enforcement agency is transmitted to the STEP Server message queue. The WIJIS Workflow Engine retrieves the electronic data message from the STEP Server queue and then queues the message for pick up by the receiving law enforcement agency.
¶ 14. Ms. Olson advises that transmission of the actual warrant or protection order that triggered the electronic data message moving through an interface will vary by county. Some counties will scan the warrant or protection order and attach a scanned copy to the electronic data message moving through the interface. Other counties will continue to use existing physical transmission practices such as hand-carrying or faxing copies, which the receiving agency then will match up with the companion electronic data messages received through the interface.
¶ 15. As currently programmed, according to Ms. Olson, the XML electronic data messages that will travel through the warrant and protection order interfaces do not include an indicator that a particular document or the underlying action has been sealed. If the court orders the underlying action to be sealed after an electronic data message about a warrant or a protection order has been transmitted, she advises, a second XML electronic data message would be sent to update the information transmitted in the first message; that second message would correct information in the receiving agency’s database, not replace or erase the initial message.
¶ 16. The WIJIS Workflow Engine therefore operates like a mailbox, according to Mr. Sartin. A message is received, temporarily stored while queued on the secure system, then delivered to the authorized partner to which it is addressed. Because WIJIS processes data only for purposes of transmission, not for search or analysis, electronic data will be retained only temporarily on the WIJIS server for purposes of troubleshooting and delivery verification.