Law Enforcement Just Can't Let Go Of Their Big Database Obsession
from the more-data,-more-data,-more-data dept
The various law enforcement agencies and groups around the US just can’t give up on their desire to have big centralized databases, no matter how many problems it might cause. And, every time one effort is stopped, another one springs up in its place. There was, of course, the famed Total Information Awareness project that was shelved after it got a ton of negative publicity, and was later renamed the Terrorism Information Awareness project, because no one wants to be against “terrorism,” right? Then, of course, there was the famed MATRIX system (not the movie) that would allow various state law enforcement groups to easily access similar databases from other state law enforcement groups, and would then spit out a “terrorist quotient” for any particular person to see how likely you were to be a terrorist (like a credit score, but more ridiculous). That got shut down after a wave of negative publicity as well. Yet here we are again, as the Washington Post reports that the Justice Department, the DEA and a bunch of other federal law enforcement officials are working on a big centralized database system called OneDOJ, which will let state and local police officers tap into federal law enforcement case files.
There are some obvious benefits for law enforcement agents to have such information at their fingertips. After all, some people believe it was a lack of critical data sharing that made law enforcement miss some important connections that might have tipped them off to what the 9/11 hijackers were up to. However, centralized database systems like this also open up a ton of potential problems as well. There are always questions about how accurate the data is, for example. Remember the guy who was arrested due to a database error? Then, of course, there are all the issues that come about from opening up this data to more people. Even if the people who are supposed to access it are in law enforcement, that’s no guarantee it won’t be misused. Remember the cop who used a law enforcement database to spy on his ex-wives? And the MATRIX system we discussed above was brought down in part due to a bunch of crooks hacking into the system, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. In the meantime, of course, law enforcement officials are spending more time (and taxpayer money) using private databases rather than the ones they built themselves, not that they have any better quality control or security.