Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Big Brother's Got Some New Lists

First one I caught linked at SayUncle. This one is the universal US DoJ list.
The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials.

The system, known as "OneDOJ," already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.

The database is billed by its supporters as a much-needed step toward better information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, which have long complained about a lack of cooperation from the federal government.

But civil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.

This one begs all kinds of questions. Like what happens when a criminal record gets expunged by the court. Wonder who is doing the maintenance on the monster database to clean up. What happens to the records when someone dies? Does the data get removed or does it stay there for ever? Is there a means to track what the police are doing when they access the system? (I'm referring to accountability for the users so that there is some record to indicate when police have used this database inappropriately. As in a criminal undertaking by a law enforcement officer.)
In an interview last week, McNulty said the goal is to broaden the pool of data available to local and state investigators beyond systems such as the National Crime Information Center, the FBI-run repository of basic criminal records used by police and sheriff's deputies around the country.

By tapping into the details available in incident reports, interrogation summaries and other documents, investigators will dramatically improve their chances of closing cases, he said.

"The goal is that all of U.S. law enforcement will be able to look at each other's records to solve cases and protect U.S. citizens," McNulty said. "With OneDOJ, we will essentially hook them up to a pipe that will take them into its records."

It does sound like a useful tool, except for the possibility that the system will be abused and that there are going to be no protections or even attempts at accountability.
McNulty and other Justice officials emphasize that the information available in the database already is held individually by the FBI and other federal agencies. Much information will be kept out of the system, including data about public corruption cases, classified or sensitive topics, confidential informants, administrative cases and civil rights probes involving allegations of wrongdoing by police, officials said.

But civil-liberties and privacy advocates -- many of whom are already alarmed by the proliferation of federal databases -- warn that granting broad access to such a system is almost certain to invite abuse and lead to police mistakes.

Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the main problem is one of "garbage in, garbage out," because case files frequently include erroneous or unproved allegations.

"Raw police files or FBI reports can never be verified and can never be corrected," Steinhardt said. "That is a problem with even more formal and controlled systems. The idea that they're creating another whole system that is going to be full of inaccurate information is just chilling."

Steinhardt noted that in 2003, the FBI announced that it would no longer meet the Privacy Act's accuracy requirements for the National Crime Information Center, its main criminal-background-check database, which is used by 80,000 law enforcement agencies across the country.

That last bit makes me especially nervous. How are names tracked of people who aren't criminals but are part of the cases? What if you're robbed and get into a report, how is that handled in relation to the criminal investigations? The GIGO factor is extremely worrisome.
McNulty and other officials said the data compiled under OneDOJ would be subject to the same civil-liberties and privacy oversight as any other Justice Department database. A coordinating committee within Justice will oversee the database and other information-sharing initiatives, according to McNulty's memo.
That's supposed to make me feel more secure? Unfortunately the Privacy Act protections won't likely see the light of day until you sue the government about an abuse. I don't know if LEO really hate their internal audit system as much as the TV dramas make it out, but having worked with auditors previously, I'm betting they do, and audits will be a complete waste.

Then there is this from Schneier.
If you've traveled abroad recently, you've been investigated. You've been assigned a score indicating what kind of terrorist threat you pose. That score is used by the government to determine the treatment you receive when you return to the U.S. and for other purposes as well.

Curious about your score? You can't see it. Interested in what information was used? You can't know that. Want to clear your name if you've been wrongly categorized? You can't challenge it. Want to know what kind of rules the computer is using to judge you? That's secret, too. So is when and how the score will be used.

U.S. customs agencies have been quietly operating this system for several years. Called Automated Targeting System, it assigns a "risk assessment" score to people entering or leaving the country, or engaging in import or export activity. This score, and the information used to derive it, can be shared with federal, state, local and even foreign governments. It can be used if you apply for a government job, grant, license, contract or other benefit. It can be shared with nongovernmental organizations and individuals in the course of an investigation. In some circumstances private contractors can get it, even those outside the country. And it will be saved for 40 years.

Little is known about this program. Its bare outlines were disclosed in the Federal Register in October. We do know that the score is partially based on details of your flight record--where you're from, how you bought your ticket, where you're sitting, any special meal requests--or on motor vehicle records, as well as on information from crime, watch-list and other databases.

Civil liberties groups have called the program Kafkaesque. But I have an even bigger problem with it. It's a waste of money.

Joy, another list, and this one is even worse.

My problem with these lists is that they don't go away and they don't get maintained. Once someone screws something up you have to practically kill someone to get a repair. And you're the one who will have to pay the price of arrests or delays if some one screws up. Worst of all, this last one is so secretive that intelligent discussion can't even take place. Why it's secret is beyond me.

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