n the last issue of this newsletter, I wrote of Ed Yourdan's "good enough" software concept, (cheap enough, fast enough, feature-rich enough, and available soon enough). Most software is developed to permit us to store, manipulate, and extract data. But is the data always good enough?
Data integrity is an issue that we are all concerned with. How many times have you written programs that attempted to permit only "good" data to be accepted, data which is within a specified range and consistent with related data? How many times have you discovered bad data has somehow crept into the database, not to mention the ubiquitous decimal data error? Knowing something about the behind the scenes issues, are you confident that Government database information concerning you is accurate? So let's assume that the occasional error occurs; this is Canada, and our system of justice may sometimes be slow, but it is not totalitarian, and errors do get corrected. Usually we can find a relevant document to convince the bureaucrats to amend the data. This may not necessarily be possible in some instances in the near future.
During the last 25 years, a project known as POLARIS (Province of Ontario Land Registry Improvement System) has been underway. In keeping with this initiative, provincial legislation authorizing the conversion to electronic land searching and registration was passed, and received Royal Assent, in 1994. Sounds good! So what is my point? Normally when a dispute occurs, original documents are required. Microfiche and images are acceptable only if the original no longer exists. But the 1994 act includes the words: "The electronic document ... prevails over the written form of the document in the event of a conflict." Hence my concern as a land (mortgaged) owner regarding data integrity.
This aspect was raised in lawyer Alan Silverstein's recent article in the Toronto Star Homes section on January 27. There are ongoing talks taking place between the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, Teranet (the developer), and a representative group of lawyers regarding the legal issues, but should I/S professionals be taking an interest too? The usual security concerns have been raised: an on-line system is susceptible to hackers, password systems are susceptible to abuse, workstations are not automatically logged off when inactive, etc. As I understand the current plans, access for registration of title will not be restricted to lawyers, but neither will it be provided to everyone. Qualified individuals and organizations will be able to register for access to the system for registering title. The database may be made available more broadly for searching only.
Teranet is conducting a trial of the system in Middlesex county at present, with the intent to run the system in parallel with the paper system during the summer. The entire province should be converted by the year 2000. The province is guaranteeing accuracy, and a special fund will be set up to compensate for any losses which can be proven. Since every transaction will be associated with a registered user, anyone who believes that title has passed from them erroneously, will be notified of where the questionable transaction originated, but it appears that the onus of proving fraud or error will be squarely on the individual who no longer has title in law. Having some knowledge of investment frauds which only come to light on retirement or death, sometimes many years after the investment was made, I would like to get periodic confirmation of my database record. I would also like to know when my record has been converted to the new system, and to be able to verify that the conversion was accurate. I would particularly like to be notified when the system records that title to property has passed from me - even by inheritance!
This entire project is one of some magnitude which
ought eventually to result in great economies of both time and
money. Ideally it should also result in an up-to-date system of
which we can all be proud. Expect to see more discussion on the
topic in the media in the coming months, but in the interim, give
some thought to data integrity and security.