Confidential data need to be kept confidential – but there are times when the information needs to be shared, too. That's where the new EU Framework Programme Consequence comes in.
It’s all a matter of context
A chemical tanker overturns on a busy city road, an aeroplane crashes, there's a nuclear material spillage. In such emergency situations, response teams from different organisations based in different places need to coordinate and share relevant information quickly and effectively.
But how do you ensure that the information reaches all the people who need it, and only those people, in any given scenario? How do you protect the privacy of individuals and the confidentiality of organisations? How do you ensure that only the essential data are shared in order to avoid information overload in a time-sensitive emergency?
This is where Consequence comes in. The three-year research project, funded by the EU's Framework Programme, aims to make it easier and more secure for organisations to share data. As a result, the project consortium hopes that governments, businesses and consumers will be able to make more use of information and computing technology (ICT) solutions.
The consortium is made up of seven partners from industry and academia, with Microsoft as its coordinator. Alexey Orlov, the project manager for Consequence, located at the Microsoft European Innovation Center (EMIC) in Germany, has plenty of experience managing multinational projects. Since joining Microsoft in his native Russia in 1997, he has also been based in Bulgaria, France, Finland and Germany. Still, this is his first time in the role of Framework Programme coordinator.
“Whenever you're doing something for the first time, even if you have experience in similar roles, it's always a challenge,” he said.
The main challenge for Orlov and his team of about 20 is to create something that doesn't yet exist to fill a gap between the technology available now and business requirements.
“Very often the current options are for either ‘complete control' or ‘no control' [of data],” Orlov wrote in a summary of the project.
What's needed instead is a framework allowing information to be shared securely in dynamic set-ups, such as temporary project teams – particularly when several organisations are involved, he said.
The idea behind Consequence grew from the introduction of digital rights management (DRM) to protect books, music and videos in electronic format. “The idea was interesting for many other scenarios, for example cooperation between enterprises and the exchange of confidential data,” Orlov said.
The key difference was that DRM focused on fixed data, whereas what was needed was technology adapted for dynamic, changing situations. The consortium, spread across Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, started on the project in January 2008 and is developing two test-bed scenarios to evaluate its work.
One of these scenarios is crisis management, seeking a way to increase access, in a controlled manner, to information that is usually protected. This test-bed is hosted by consortium partner BAE Systems.
The other is with one of the UK's seven national research councils, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, another consortium member, which hosts large amounts of sensitive scientific data involving many individuals and organisations, from different countries with different laws, within specified time limits, and for particular uses. Consequence aims to tackle this “huge problem” of managing such large amounts of information with so many variables, Orlov said.
Exactly how the end results of the project will become available as products and services, the so-called exploitation plans, remains to be seen. “Still, our objective is to feed the knowledge and results gained in this project into our product development,” Orlov said. “That's what we would like to see at Microsoft.”
MEMBERS OF THE CONSORTIUM:
- European Microsoft Innovation Center (EMIC), Germany, Coordinator, www.microsoft.com/EMIC
- BAE Systems (Operations) Limited (BAES), United Kingdom
- Centre for Research and Telecommunication for Networked Communities (CREATE-NET) (CN), Italy
- Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), Italy
- Hewlett-Packard Italiana (HP), Italy
- Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine (Imperial), United Kingdom
- Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), United Kingdom