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.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Law Enforcement Just Can't Let Go Of Their Big Database Obsession”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
security (user link) says:

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.

Related civil rights probes of wrongdoing could possibly shed some light on the validy of any related incident reports and interrogation summaries being analyzed

transfer says:

if you have a supermarket card a gas card a credit card or anything like that you are already in (rough estimate) about 5 databases which if subpeonaed (spelled that wrong) could be easily aquired so anyway you look at it that giant database they are talking about is already there they are just to lazy than to actually have to do the work to talk to a judge and have a case before they get you shopping record for the last 3 monthes.

as for what security said i agree but that type of information by its nature wouldnt make it into those files although the down side for the gov is that because it would be every news source and shopping card and credit card if anyone got in they couldnt help but find classified and/or scandalous information if they looked hard enough

mousepaw says:

How about

I know this is crazy, but why don’t they just requisition Columbia House’s mailing list, or anybody’s mailing list for that matter? If it’s info they want, collect it from the collectors. This info exists all over the place, they don’t need another database, they just need to tap into the ones that already exist. And how many companies are putting out company directories? You can find out how much almost anybody makes in a year and if you talk to their neighbours, you can get a good idea of what they do on the side. We already live in a fish bowl…

haochela says:

The problem isn't sharing data it's hiding data

The “opportunity” will always be some group (be they policemen, prosecutors, military, diplomats, intelligence gatherers or political leaders) with a vested interest in seeing “winners” and “losers” in this world wanting to get information at their fingertips in order to better accomplish what they see as “their job”.

The problem will always be that same group, having the information at their fingertips, will want to keep it hidden from undescribed and theoretical “enemies” to prevent them from acquiring the same advantage that a large share of information provides; so at some point it is decided that access to this information needs to be restricted.

The problem is, hiding information by definition violiates the concept of sharing the same.

In the end this boils down to a lack of faith in their point of view, that they can “prevail against the enemy” in an environment where those with whom they believe themselves to be at odds have the same access that they do.

When this view, aided by the acquisition of political power, acquires the window dressing of “national interest” it leads inevitably down the slippery slope of massive and hidden information stores that inevitably become corrupted by a inferior inputs, a lack of adequate peer review process and over-politicization of the sharing process for those who can most benefit from it.

Conversely, when something happens that all agree could and should have been prevented, it almost always emerges that some vital piece of information was available somewhere in the share, just not in a place where anyone could use it.

Mark Perkins (user link) says:

Re: The problem isn't sharing data it's hiding dat

I would go further. One of the differences between village life and modern life is that in the former if you someone knew something about you, you also knew the same about them – a certain type of equality.

Today, those with access to these databases know a lot about us, but we know little about them. An interesting test would be to open up the personal information on a) corporate directors held by commercial databases or b) politicians and police accessible by government without warrant.

Dunne Fore says:

Contempt of Congress, Brothers

Clearly, the 40 million air traveler records were seized to put into this database. And if you traveled to a country which has child sex trade problems, don’t you think your name will be a ‘”match” for child sex offender profiles, and that you are now an investigation target?
And if you cruise for porn, and happen on pictures of Eva Ionesco, taken by her mother, which are provocative enough to be labeled child porn in every state in America (she’s a beautiful 12 year old waif whose mom lovingly dolled up in black stockings-and nothing else but black pumps…thank you mom) don’t you think yourself a target?
And if you love your family enough to catch up with them via phone or e-mail in Afghanistan, Iraq, or ANY OTHER FOREIGN COUNTRY, don’t you think you are now an investigative target?
And if you take opiate based pain meds like Oxycontin or Oxycodone, dont you think that a simple clerical error MIGHT PUT your name on a list of targets for the FBI? After all, some 33 states are implementing an Orwellian Prescription Monitoring Program, with the ability to learn ALL details of your health history with ONE MOUSE CLICK, in clear contravention of all Equal Employment rules prohibiting our singling out simply because of our handicap. This is surely the APEX of all EEOC violations. Go fight for your country, get blown up enough to require pain meds daily, and become an investigatory target because you did your patriotic duty. How NOBLE is this, Brothers?


The information in FBI INVESTIGATIONS, where no proof of wrong has been established, is being trafficked to local law enforcement personnel. I’m in N.C, so I think Barney Fife. In Denver you shoud be thinking spooks who videotape anti-war rallies and then make dossiers on the activists, and in Los Angelos you should be thinking the WORST OF ALL THINGS, because your ass is theirs during your next traffic stop, if your name pops up on this PRE-CRIME DATABASE, as so aptly named in the blogosphere.

And one your name is disparaged within community by these miscreants, you ain’t ever coming back to the life you knew before. Think John Lennon and THAT OTHER NOTED (and assasinated) peace activist Martin Luther King Jr.

This is what Congress tried to stop the Bush administration from going forward with, and he has thrown it in our faces. We should now remove him for contempt of Congress, before this Orwellian system ruins tens of millions of lives. And trust this, if you are in Law Enforcement, you are doubly jeapordized, as they investigate you twice for every one of us.
And they will, once we start vigorously asking them to…for our safety. Simply by constructing this database, you have conclusively proven that you can not be trusted with this type of unfettered power.

Anonymous Coward says:

there is both good and bad with one centralized data tank.

people will complain…it’s private, however they are the same people who will fill out website surveys, enter those “win a dream vactaion” contest that the mall (the ones where it’s just a cart with a bunch of paper entries and you fill out your info INCLUDING YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER w/o skipping a beat.

the good is with everything in one central location, retrieving data is great. you can get your fingerprints, travel histories, medical histories, criminal records, financial records…everything in one swoop. if something wrong happens (credit card gets stolen) or if you move or whatever, you go to one place, change your info, and bam. all done. conversley, a data entry error could cause problems (wrong person arrested) security is a HUGE issue. with all of that data, it is a major task to ensure the right people will have the information.

with this, no more searching through the FBI database, the CIA database, medial databases, perscription databases…’s one stop shopping. but if something happens…..KA-BOOM. like, if you have a stack of glasses, you can pile the together, or place them randomly on an even surface. start dropping rocks. if they are spread out, they are more likely to break, but only a small portion is broken, and can be replaced. pile the glasses together, have one event, and all the glass shatters, with no backup.

blech….i can go either way on this. before you condem…take a minute…hell 30 seconds to just poner the opposite use.

ok, i’ve ranted enough…

Joe Smith says:

would it be useful?

The temptations of one big database are clear. In the area where I live we suspect a serial killer is at work along 500 mile stretch of highway. The common theory is that the killer is someone who travels along that particular route. A troll through credit card and telephone records might identify someone who was in the right place at the right times to be worth a closer look.

But the trouble that Netflix is having getting useful information out of a much smaller and more specific database suggests that however attractive such an effort is probably doomed to fail.

One is left with the feeling that the government agencies are just like those compulsive pack rats who, if left alone, will pack their dwellings floor to ceiling with useless stuff because it might be useful later.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...