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Monday, July 08, 2013

So the NSA has my personal info. What could go wrong?

WonkBlog: When stated abstractly, the risk of the NSA violating your privacy may not seem so alarming. The Associated Press reports on an FBI database that provides some concrete examples of how a massive database about Americans can be abused.

The National Crime Information Center database, maintained by the FBI, provides law enforcement agencies across the country with information they need to do their job, including information about outstanding arrest warrants, gang memberships, firearms records, and much more. According to the AP, it serves 90,000 agencies and receives 9 million data points every day.

The New York Police Department says one of its detectives was recently caught using the NCIC database to secretly obtain personal information about two other NYPD officers. Police officials have suggested that the man, who also hacked into several individuals’ e-mail accounts, was trying to figure out “who his ex-girlfriend, also a police officer, was chatting with.”

Another police officer, Gilbert Valle, was convicted in March for using the NCIC database to “help compile dossiers on women that listed their birthdates, addresses, heights and weights,” apparently as part of a “bizarre plot to kidnap, cook and cannibalize women.” Fortunately, the authorities stepped in before the women he had profiled were harmed.
Now, AP reports that “authorities have accused a Memphis police officer of using the NCIC database to leak information to a confidential informant about a watch dealer who the informant believed had stolen a Rolex; a reserve patrolman in Clarkston, Ga., of running names and license plates for marijuana dealers; a Montgomery County, Md., officer of running checks on cars belonging to a woman who later reported that the vehicles had been vandalized; and a Hartford, Conn., police sergeant of supplying database records to a woman who used them to harass her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend."

In short, not everyone with access to private information is a good person. Those examples are just the ones we know about. Obviously, we have no way of knowing how many people abused the system and got away with it.

"All of your personal data is in the hands of the same people that run the TSA, the IRS and likely the DMV," explains author Peter Van Buren. “Do you trust all of them all the time to never make mistakes or act on personal grudges or political biases? Do you believe none of them would ever sell your data for personal profit ever? In fact, the NSA is already sharing your data with, at minimum, British intelligence. That’s a foreign government that your American government is informing on you to, FYI."

Van Buren also explains that even if you trust completely the people overseeing the NSA right now, those people won’t be around forever — but that data will. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reminds us that the NSA’s history shouldn’t inspire trust. It was the NSA’s abuse of domestic surveillance that resulted in FISA — which George W. Bush basically ignored. Those who don’t learn from the past…

Nixon resorted to burglary to get information and stay in power, how much more tempting must it be to access information without resorting to breaking into the Watergate Hotel? And the temptation isn’t just for the president, As we see with the NCIC database, the danger of abuse exists with every person involved. If it can be abused, it will be abused. It’s simply human nature.

[image by JefferyTurner]

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