Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A bit more on privacy...

...and why we should be concerned. You surely know that the government is amassing vast amounts of data about us. How massive is the pile? According to then-newly declassified documents obtained by Wired.com last fall and discussed in a mostly gee-whiz article,
the FBI’s National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC) maintains a hodgepodge of data sets packed with more than 1.5 billion government and private-sector records about citizens and foreigners,
tens of thousands of records from private corporate databases, including car-rental companies, large hotel chains and at least one national department store....
Now it develops that not only is the government sharing at least some of that data, related to arrest records, with foreign countries, it's doing it even though it knows a significant amount of it is wrong.

On Monday, the ACLU blog cited an article in USA Today that
tells the story of Ann Wright, a former U.S. State Department official who became active in the anti-war movement after the invasion of Iraq. Wright has been repeatedly stopped at the Canadian border by immigration officials because our government gives them direct access to a database that includes her history of misdemeanor arrests for civil disobedience.
So first off, it's undeniable that such information is being shared with foreign governments, in fact not even foreign governments but individual cops of foreign governments. Just how is it that we can keep being assured of the "safety" and "confidentiality" of those records when they are so widely and freely shared, including with people not even subject to US laws regarding their dissemination?

But there's more.
The database the article discusses is managed by the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the government's primary computer system for sharing criminal justice information with law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and now beyond.... NCIC process an average of 7 million requests for information a day.
And according to Roy Weise, a "senior adviser to the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division," which manages NCIC, "about half" of the arrest records in the system have not been updated to reflect the disposition. In other words, the database says you were arrested for something - but if the charges were dropped or dismissed or you were acquitted, there's a 50-50 chance it does not say that.

The ACLU goes on to note that in 2005, the Migration Policy Institute found an error rate of 42 percent in NCIC "hits" between 2002 and 2004. How could it be this bad, the ACLU asks, when the Privacy Act requires agencies to make sure their records are sufficiently accurate and updated "to assure fairness to the individual" being examined or identified? Simple: The NCIC was exempted from the Privacy Act.

Oh, well, that's okay then.

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