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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    NOBODY, May 20th, 2004 @ 11:44am

    No Subject Given

    The problem with it is the same problem we had with the war. The fucking pretence is a lie. Do you really believe this system will be used for, or is even likely to be used for finding terrorists? I would highly doubt it. More likely it's going to be used on people who have nothing to do with terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2004 @ 12:01pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    I totally agree! We all know the twelve galaxies have conspired against us to impeach the president and inflate the number of reported typhoid cases in western Chihuahua province. And now this!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2004 @ 12:17pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Hitler categorized and sorted groups of people too.

    Those that forget history are doomed to repeat it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    dorpus, May 20th, 2004 @ 12:25pm

    Oh wow, Mike is reasonable

    He isn't foaming at the mouth about libertarianism and free markets. Maybe his terrorist quotient should be lowered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    John, May 20th, 2004 @ 12:40pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Beck, May 20th, 2004 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Be Careful

    If I am denied a bag of fertilizer at Home Depot based on my terrorist quotient rating, are they required to provide me with a free copy of my terrorist report?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2004 @ 1:59pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Rick Colosimo, May 20th, 2004 @ 4:49pm

    Re: Hitler comment

    Godwin's law, and, IIRC, it is only applicable if you call the other side Hitler or a Nazi.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Dean, May 20th, 2004 @ 8:18pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2004 @ 8:22am

    Re: Only 120,000 terrorists

    120,000 POTENTIAL terrorists! Once they are investigated, I would expect the number to drop. This is an analysis of data, not a ruling in court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2004 @ 4:24am

    Re: Only 120,000 terrorists

    They ruled me out after they confiscated everything and didn't give it back. When they investigate you always lose. You may win in court like me, but you lose your dignitiy, career, and life.

    Fascism Sucks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.