OData and the VIC Data Model

Video Image Classification Standard (VICS)

Project VIC is also leading an effort to create a standards-based protocol called Video Image Classification Standard (VICS). The VICS protocol makes it straightforward to exchange comprehensive sets of hashes domestically and internationally without having to touch or manipulate the data. VICS is based on the OData (open data) protocol that is backed by the OASIS standards body. Thanks to Project VIC, the VICS protocol is now supported by most of the software and services used to help police and other agencies focus on victims and material that has never been seen before.

More about our approach:

The idea of connecting applications and services together is not a new one – public and private sector have been working on this issue for many years. The most common approach to date has been to use an XML schema. The challenge with XML is that it is simply a file format. Everyone using it must define their own schema to represent data and XML provides lots of flexibility, meaning that no two implementations are the same. Typically, each application defined their own XML schema and persuaded at best a few other companies to interoperate with them, meaning that XML files could be exported from one application and then imported into another.

There have been attempts to address this issue by creating “super” XML schemas that contained all kinds of data, such as NIEM. The issue with this is that it becomes incredibly complex and hard for vendors to implement consistently, and even after all the work, it only allows file export and import. We can think of the current state as “XML hell” where most applications and services have some support for importing and exporting XML files and still cannot integrate with each other.

For Project VIC, we will follow a different approach which has been working for other sectors. We are separating the problem into two pieces, instead of one:

1.) The protocol

2.) The data model

For the protocol, we will use an open standard (OData) which defines everything required for applications and services to connect to each other and perform actions such as query or update. This gives far more power than simply file export/import because applications can seamlessly integrate. By relying on a standard, there are no debates about how data and queries will be represented. Vendors also get benefit of supporting a protocol that will show up outside the law enforcement domain (e.g., supported in Microsoft Excel) increasing their return on investment.

For the data model, this is defined by the customers (Project VIC participants) with input from vendors. The data model is published on a site to allow it to evolve as customer requirements change, allowing all participating vendors to have a reference data model. They can also store and publish additional information that is specific to their application but still support the core data model.

The approach of a law enforcement-defined data model and a standards-defined protocol means that vendors are not in the business of defining any standards which has led to the XML hell in the past. The future state we are aiming for is a world in which all the applications can connect and law enforcement is free to mix and match the tools that help them to achieve their goals.