What's Your Terrorist Quotient?

from the you-might-just-be-a-terrorist... dept

Earlier this year there was a lot of talk about the “MATRIX” (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange) that would link up a variety of databases for law enforcement officials to get faster access to data about possible criminals and criminal activity. There has been a loud backlash against the system by privacy activists – and while that’s made some states back off, others have moved forward. Defenders of the system insist that since all they’re doing is making use of information that is already available to them, there are no privacy questions. All they’ve really done is made it faster to get useful information for investigations. However, now a story has come out that the original system went well beyond that to give people a “terrorist quotient” suggesting how likely they were to be a terrorist. The article also notes that the initial test of the system came up with 120,000 potential terrorists – and helped trigger a number of law enforcement actions. If it really is just analyzing data that is already available, and simply flagging individuals for further investigation, is that really such a big deal? It’s just a more data intensive version of profiling. The real risk with such a system is that it would allow people who shouldn’t have access to get data on people they shouldn’t have data on. However, if it’s actually being used to track down criminals, what’s the problem? Obviously, if law enforcement relies to strongly on the “terrorist quotient” as an indicator of guilt, that would be a problem. But, if it’s just used to alert them to potential problems, and is using data they already have available, the privacy issue doesn’t seem to be as big a deal. If the system is used properly, it’s not that problematic. The real issue is having some openness about what data is being included, who has access to the system, and how the data is being used.


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Comments on “What's Your Terrorist Quotient?”

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11 Comments
John says:

Be Careful

The problem with this kind of data-mining by law enforcement is that there IS a strong tendency to assume a correlation DOES mean someone is guilty. How many times have we seen law enforment run amok and doggedly pursue people for who there is no evidence they did anything wrong, just because they “looked guilty”? It happens a lot more than it should for the simple reason that law enforcement is not an objective player in the game. Let’s not forget that the former Attorney General of the United States, Edwin Meese, stated that there is no need to worry about protecting the rights of citizens because “the police only arrest guilty people.” It’s far too easy for a list of subjects to investigate to become a list of people who must be guilty if we can just get enough information.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Be Careful

Indeed. Why do we need to go down the road of setting up these types of systems when we can just use magic to stop terrorism? This way, no one will ever get offended by being needlessly questionned.

Hey, by the way, what’s that discussion group rule called where if you bring up hitler in any argument, you automatically lose?

Dean says:

Only 120,000 terrorists

This highlights the biggest reason that profiling systems just don’t work. Does anyone really believe that there are 120,000 terrorists in the US. Realistic estimates give the number in the low hundreds. How much effort is wasted investigating all of these false positives that could be used on looking for real terrorists.

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