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Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Record Service
The Texas Department of Public Safety is one of the “Big Seven” state agencies headquartered in Austin, Texas. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) is the principle agency responsible for maintaining public safety in the state of Texas. DPS strives to protect lives, rights and property of all Texans.
In 1997 the 75th legislature passed a bill requiring DPS to make criminal history records available via the Internet. Furthermore, the legislature empowered the agency to charge a small fee to cover costs. DPS quickly realized that the only way to distribute the information in a cost-effective manner was to use the World Wide Web. MicroAssist won the DPS contract to create a web based solution to distribute criminal records. The 76th legislature expanded the role of the site to include free access to sex offender records and access to private information by authorized organizations and users.
The building of a successful and powerful solution involved an array of technological challenges:
- In 1997 the technology related to the World Wide Web was relatively new. Browser compatibility was a huge problem and the differences between Netscape, Internet Explorer, Mosaic and a wide variety of lesser-known browsers were substantial.
- The website has to deliver large amount of data over the Internet (more than five gigabytes in raw format) Furthermore, the complicated searches by real and alias information required a sophisticated database design.
- The website contains critical information that has to be available to the public and the organizations at all times. The online service had to be highly reliable one. The sensitivity of the data made security another significant issue.
In 1997, MicroAssist, Inc. successfully created and launched the DPS website, enabling for the first time, instant access to Texas criminal records and history. The website allows users to search over 25 million criminal records, for a minimal fee of $3.15.
The system was built on the following platform:
- Microsoft Windows NT/2000
- Microsoft SQL Server
- Microsoft Internet Information Server
- Allaire Cold
- Fusion Verisign Security Certificates
To achieve the speed and reliability required by DPS, MicroAssist designed a three-tier system consisting of:
- Multiple Front End Web Servers: The traffic on the web servers are managed by a hardware load balancer. Over the years, the number of web servers has increased from two to four as the load on the system has increased. The load balancing solution allows us to remove a front-end web server when maintenance is needed without disrupting the site’s operation.
- Application Servers: The application servers handle business logic such as pre-processing of data, e-commerce, etc.
- Database Servers: The system includes multiple SQL based database servers. Each database server performs a specific function. Functions include: Serving the web front-ends, getting data from the mainframe, pre-processing data for maximum performance.
The database for Criminal History Records had to be designed carefully to allow an acceptable response time for queries. The data is downloaded onto build servers from the mainframe. MicroAssist pre-processes and scrubs the data to insure speed and accuracy. The data is then transferred into its final format and replicated to the SQL server responsible for serving the web front ends.
To maintain the up-to date status of the website, the data has to be updated on a weekly basis. MicroAssist has designed the system to update constantly by using SQL Server’s native replication over a dedicated T1 line from DPS to our hosting site.
The site processes over $2,000,000/year in transactions. Users can pay by checks or credit cards. Governmental agencies can choose to be invoiced for services. MicroAssist’s e-commerce server has been certified by VITAL and processes the websites credit card transactions. The e-commerce server offers complete management of the transactions including batch processing of transactions, transaction reports, and refunds.
Security is very important on the Criminal Records/Sex Offender site because of the sensitive nature of the non-public data as well as its e-commerce functions. To insure security the system is hosted behind a firewall, important fields are encrypted, and a user/group based security system is used to provide access to data to authorized users.
The DPS site is one of the first State of Texas sites to be bilingual. MicroAssist redesigned the site to display menu options, prompts, and text in both English and Spanish.
- The site has become one of the most successful e-commerce sites for the State of Texas and has been profiled in national magazines including PC Magazine and Wired.
- The Site receives over 2 million hits and approximately 200,000 user sessions per month.
- The cost of getting cri