When Governments Put Together Big Databases On People, They Get Abused

from the you-have-no-privacy dept

For years, the government has pushed repeatedly to build bigger and more comprehensive databases of information around citizens. There are certainly justifications that can be made for such databases -- so long as people weigh those justifications against the fact that the databases will absolutely be abused. We recently wrote about the case where a government employee used a Homeland Security computer system to track an ex-girlfriend. The latest story is that a corrupt customs agent was selling access to federal databases. While it's good that he was caught, he wasn't caught due to any protection mechanisms put in place, but because a drug dealer who had been paying the customs agent for access to the database, was stopped for a traffic violation, and the police officer noticed the business card for the customs agent. The police then followed up to try to figure out why the guy had the agent's card, leading to the story unfolding. Hopefully, since then, more stringent protections have been put in place, but it seems likely that there are still plenty of questionable uses of these sorts of databases.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 3:07am

    This must be anonymous. I, having a crazy ex, must personally disagree with any gathering of information about individuals. I know from experience that leasing companies sell info and that WILL be abused. My ex found me that way and it was not good. My pleas go out to government operations that they will not gather this information. I was afraid to get my drivers' license renewed because I don't want to be followed by personal vendettas.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 6:30am

    Its no big whoop. Big deal, so you throw the people in jail for abusing the database. Beats the hell out of eating a nuke in one of our cities. No one can question the value of data mining, at least here. Only a luddite would state that.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 6:55am

    Re:

    They can't keep track of access to their own database and you think they will still be able to use it find nukes? Please.

     

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  4.  
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    PopeRatzo, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:07am

    Big deal, so you throw the people in jail for abusing the database. Beats the hell out of eating a nuke in one of our cities.

    Boy, are you stupid.

     

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  5.  
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    AJ, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:10am

    Alot like DRM

    Just like DRM, if you make it... It will be cracked. Its almost impossible to completely secure information when you have the human factor to deal with.

     

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  6.  
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    Overcast, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:12am

    No doubt it will be abused to the fullest extent possible. And likely - and one point, it will mutate into a database to allow Government to control people.

    And some will laugh...

    But I think it's funny how Government has people duped into believing that basically over the last 100 years, it's a wonderful thing - here to protect us. When it was clear common knowledge for 9,900 years prior to that - that Government's always basically been an enemy of the people, and is to be kept in check.

    It's like my daughter telling me, "Well, I won't lie now!"

     

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  7.  
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    4-80-sicks, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:15am

    Re: no big whoop

    Call me a luddite if you want to, but I am against data mining. Sorry, I don't want the government tracking me. Why should they need to? What's a good reason? Some nebulous image of "protection?" Them having my credit information, my library history, my bills, my internet traffic and all this crap, and that of everybody else is not going to stop America from "eating a nuke," sorry.

    We need to have intelligent, observant enforcement agents like the officer mentioned in the article. That is far more effective than some gigantic database tracking every aspect of everybody that everything must check for every transaction or transition.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:23am

    "Why should they need to?"

    You can't ask the govt. to fight against threats while taking away their tools to do so.

     

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  9.  
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    Overcast, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:36am

    "Why should they need to?"

    You can't ask the govt. to fight against threats while taking away their tools to do so.


    Maybe it's going too far huh....?

    But I propose.. That if they cannot 'lead' the country, take steps to keep us safe **AND** protect our liberties - maybe they aren't 'cut out' for the job they are doing? It seems other leaders over the years have done just that - why are our politicians incapable of that now? The 'take away law enforcement's tools' mantra is just another way of saying, 'Let us control you more and we'll keep you safer'. I'd rather keep my freedom and take my chances, actually. Give them enough control and external threats will no longer be the issue you need to worry about - Government will be. History has proven this TIME and again, over and over and over.

    Yet - Government and Law Enforcement want us to think that *now* all of a sudden, they are here to protect us. How very nice.

    I can cure a headache by cutting off the head too, but it's not the most intelligent or the only possible way to fix the issue is it?

     

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  10.  
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    Paul`, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:40am

    Re:

    Pfft, Go watch some more CNN scare propaganda.

    Get ready for an Orwellian future my friends; with idiots like this being prepared to back things that can be so easily abused and misused for the sake of being 'safe' I'm sure they'll drop their pants and bend over for marshal law.

     

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  11.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:48am

    It's a poor atom blaster...

    ...that doesn't point both ways. (Isaac Asimov)

    It's a pity that those advocating such databases don't grasp this fundamental point. After all, one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to gather intelligence on someone is (a) get someone else to do it and then (b) steal their work. This is much easier than going through all the tedious work required to gather data first-hand.

    Keep in mind that the GAO has been handing out "F" grades in security to every branch of the federal government for years -- primarily because there is no lower grade. There is little doubt that adversaries are well aware of this -- it is, after all, common knowledge among even entry-level security practictioners -- and that if they haven't already taken advantage of it, they will soon.

    So even if we put aside privacy and civil liberty issues for a moment, the situation that remains is one where stunningly incompetent federal/state/local IT guarantees that collected data will likely be more readily available to our adversaries than to government employees.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:54am

    Honestly I don't want Dick Cheney to have my info... oh and can anybody see the gov't selling the data to anybody and everybody?

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 7:54am

    What a bunch of whiney babys. You talk about how great the past was while ignoring the reality of what actually went on. The good old days were not all that good. As the japanese americans during WWII. What a joke.

    As for the threats? Our leaders in the past did well? George Washington didn't have to content with the elimination of a major city in one fell swoop. Technology makes everything easier and more likely, including killing. Don't fear the man that has 100 nukes, fear the man who only wants one. Jack Nicholson was right, we want men on that fence, we need men on that fence. They would prefer you just say thank you.

     

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  14.  
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    4-80-sicks, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 8:11am

    Re: What a bunch of whiney babys

    I'd rather whine than be a government sycophant who blindly accepts whatever anybody wants to do. I love America, but that does not mean I will allow the government to know everything about me. This is supposed to be of, by, and for the people, not an overpowering big brother--which is a cliche, sure, but it is still something to be avoided. And being only halfway there is not good, either. I love America, but simplistic views like yours are damaging it.

     

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  15.  
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    1984, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 8:18am

    C'mon people

    Please, some see that Orwell was right. 1984 wasn't just a book, it is actually going to end up happening, and now governments have enough technology in 2008 to make it happen. Wonder if the government knows we're on to 'em?

     

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  16.  
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    Noah Callaway, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 8:21am

    Give me....

    "You can't ask the govt. to fight against threats while taking away their tools to do so."

    I guess if it's a choice between fighting threats or 'taking away their tools' I'd rather 'take away their tools'. Their tools encroach on my liberty, and I'd honestly rather have liberty than safety.

    I guess the quote that comes to mind is: "Give me liberty or give me death."

    Of course this doesn't mean I think the government should drop all efforts to protect us. But I think it can do a decent job with tools that don't compromise my freedoms.

     

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  17.  
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    DCX2, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 8:46am

    Re:

    You can't ask the govt. to fight against threats while taking away their tools to do so.

    Plenty of countries get by just fine without the need to use those tools.

    Most of the countries who have those tools are infamous for abusing them.

    I would rather the country I live in be like the former countries rather than the latter.

    I wish there was a way that we, as taxpayers, could have a say as to where our tax money goes. Let the neocons fund their own war, rather than taking out debt on America's shoulders.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 9:15am

    So you don't want to trust the neocons with information but you trust the democrats with out healthcare system? Yeah, that makes sense.

    Hey, go with Ron Paul, of course, he would ban abortion.

     

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  19.  
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    Acupunk, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 9:35am

    Re:

    Well, we trusted the Rethugs with our Healthcare system and have been getting screwed by the massive and private bureaucracies of the insurance industries. So yeah, I will give the Dems a throw at it. But back to the main point here, these massive databases, governmental or private represent a huge threat to our personal freedoms and to democracy itself. Terrorism is going to be a fact of life for at least the rest of my life time. I am not going to cower in fear of that or let my government take my freedom away in the name of protecting me from terrorism.

     

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  20.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 9:54am

    Re: Give me...

    You're correct, Noah. These endless intrusions are simply a way to cover their incompetence -- their inability to perform their jobs at a baseline level while simultaneously respecting the rights of the people and the laws of the nation. Those who can't manage this simply aren't good enough and should be dismissed from service in favor of people of superior intelligence and ability.

    (Those people do exist, and some of them have long distinguished themselves by exemplary public service. However, many of them have been brushed aside by a political culture that rewards loyalty, party, ideology, etc. only and that punishes disagreement.)

    One thing that this discussion makes clear is that the prolonged use of fear-mongering tactics has been quite effective. It seems that any number of sheeple are quite wiling to wallow in their fear and surrender their rights without complaint.

     

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  21.  
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    Boost, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 10:10am

    exactly...

    This is why I hate Illinois FOID card's. They're supposedely about keeping unlawful people from purchasing legal weapons, but what it really does is keep a database of lawful people who may own firearms.

     

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  22.  
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    Pete, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 11:17am

    Guess the people here are too young to remember J. Edgar Hoover

     

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  23.  
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    V, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 12:35pm

    V....is for?

    see the movie: V is for Vendetta.

    everything starts with the poor, the sick, and the prisoners because nobody gives a F about them.

    revolutions don't start by the people NOT having something... they start when the people get a TASTE of something, and then get it taken away from them.

    the revolution is brewing my friends, I hope you join us!

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 12:46pm

    So far as I know, the Privacy Act of 1974 is still in effect, which dictates that the government cannot create a "central database" of US citizens. Any database they create must meet two conditions: (1) public disclosure of the database to the populace, and (2) that the specific purpose that it will be used for that justifies the inclusion of personally-identifying information in that database is disclosed as well.

    Of course, that does not prevent the government from purchasing access to databases housed by private companies, like ChoicePoint. Until that loophole is closed, government agencies can ask ChoicePoint to create a database made up of any collection of information they choose, and then just create a user account that allows them to access it at any time.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2008 @ 2:22pm

    Nice, you have weakened the govt. and law enforcement so much that it really can't do much.

    A state trooper in NY can't even ask about illegal immigration status. Picture ID's to qualify for voting can't be used in some states.

    Get a grip, we need better information, not less.

     

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  26.  
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    alternatives, Jan 22nd, 2008 @ 6:39am

    Nice, you have weakened the govt. and law enforcement so much that it really can't do much.

    Nice, you've made a claim.
    Now *PROVE* your claim. (Oh wait, you are blowhard, no proof will be forthcomming.)

     

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  27.  
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    MAC, Nov 24th, 2009 @ 8:01am

    Re: exactly...

    Buy your guns from private owners...

     

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  28.  
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    Matt, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 4:38pm

    Re:

    I don't think that's the word you wanted to use. Luddites favor old technology over the next generation, usually out of self preservation. Troglodytes, on the other hand, those guys hate technology. Stereotypically because they don't understand it and thus, fear it.

     

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