Techies skeptical of FBI's massive antiterror database
The FBI showed off their Investigative Data Warehouse, a massive antiterror database, to reporters yesterday in Washington. They were hoping, says the Washington Post, "to address criticism that its technology was failing and outdated as the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks nears." But some techies were quick to raise concerns, according to the Post. The system apparently has 659 million records, "culled from more than 50 FBI and other government agency sources," and can do what used to take over 32 thousand hours in less than 30 minutes.
Those numbers are impressive, but they make David Sobel, senior council for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, nervous. Sobel told the Post that "the Federal Register has no record of the creation of such a system, a basic requirement of the Privacy Act," and also expressed concern that "the system includes 250 million airline passenger records, stored permanently."
Techdirt, for its part, noted that big databases are inherently unmanageable, recalling a recent story of British workers hacking into government databases to check out friends' data. "With any of these big databases, it's only a matter of time before that data is abused in some manner -- no matter how carefully government officials claim that the data is only used for legitimate reasons."
Absolutely right, say Techdirt's readers. "Even small databases that refer to personal 'soft' data require huge amounts of continual tidying up to correct inaccuracies, out-of-date or subsequently disproved hypotheses and need strong editorial control," comments one. "Who exerts editorial control in a national mutli-agency setting, when the provenenace and quality of the data is unsure? Answer: No one."
What do you think? Is the FBI's antiterror database a risk to our privacy?
Of course it is a risk! And you (or I) would be a fool to think that it is not. That risk not only extends to what was pointed out in the story ("outsiders" getting at the data for ill gain) but also for the threat of govt. intrusion into the very fabric of our lifes. As if that were not already easy enough.
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