May 27, 2008

Big Brother Now Officially Exists

I stumbled across a bit of very disturbing information while I was randomly searching the Web, looking for new online publications to read.

If this doesn't grab you by the seat and scare the shit out of you then you are a complete idiot.

The FBI has created a little-known database called N-DEx, or The Law Enforcement National Data Exchange, allowing federal agents and local authorities to "search and analyze crime data on a secure Web site to help connect the dots between people, places and events," according to NextGov.com, an online spin off of the National Journal Group and the Atlantic Media Company.

The fledgling database initially was "populated
with data by officers in Delaware, Nebraska and Oregon, as well as the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons and many more (states) are standing by (ready and willing to provide information) as the rollout continues," NextGov.com says.

The FBI quietly announced the rollout of N-DEx this week with news coverage from only one, very unlikely source -- The Hillsboro Argus, a small newspaper located in Hillsboro, Oregon that is basically an arm of Portland's The Oregonian, the largest newspaper, daily or otherwise, published in the state (Incidentally, I interviewed for a reporting position at The Argus back in 1997 just after graduating from the University of Oregon, but I didn't get the job. In a 1998 simple twist of fate, I was hired by The Newberg Graphic, a locally competitive newspaper located in Newberg, a very nostalgic place in my heart, which is just over the Chehalem Mountains from Hillsboro on Oregon Route 219.)

Anyway, the FBI says that once it's fully operational in 2010, N-DEx will let investigators conduct nationwide criminal searches by modus operandi, and "for clothing, tattoos, associates, cars and other identifying factors from a single access point. The software will identify criminal activity hotspots and crime trends; offer virtualization and mapping; and conduct threat level assessments of individuals and addresses," according to information posted on the FBI Web site.

Do you see the potential for invasion of privacy here? They can "
conduct threat level assessments of individuals" even if they are not on probation or parole? That's insane, and has the potential to take law enforcement to a whole new level, where officers and officials are able to approach citizens they consider "a threat" and do what? Arrest a person if they believe that person might, or is highly likely to, commit a crime?

There are many things that scare the shit out of me about this database, and they should scare the bejesus out you and everyone you know.

Before I go any further, let me address those of you, oh appreciated readers, or those people out there, who will hear about N-DEx and say, "Well, if you aren't doing anything wrong then you shouldn't have anything to worry about when it comes to this new database."

...

You obviously live in quiet, dark place of your own volition that shelters you from reality in a warm blanket full of smiles, back rubs and wonderful, soothing, rosy thoughts.

You are either unaware, (OK, let's just call it what it is -- ignorant) unwilling or unable to believe that the Bush Administration slowly pieced together a police state during the last seven-and-a-half years, stripping all Americans of basic civil rights.

You probably believe President Bush when he says Bill Number S.1927 is really used exclusively to combat terrorism, and I'll bet with more assurance than doubling-down next week on Big Brown that you take him on his word when he says they are eavesdropping only on the conversations of criminals and suspects.

Again, in short, you are an idiot, and it's people like you that enable the government to create these types of programs because you don't want to be bothered as you go about shopping and running errands, insulated in your little, home-made bubble.

But who am I to wake you from your blissful, candy-cane, sugar-plum dreams and your belief that Goodnight Moon is actually a manifesto for world peace, holding the secret to living a Jimmy Stewart-like wonderful life.

OK, back to our regularly-scheduled Wagger.

Several things terrify me about
The Law Enforcement National Data Exchange:
  • The government remains in stealth mode about the existence of N-DEx even after launching the Web site.
  • I can't speak with authority about other states, but local law enforcement agencies, and government officials at any level, in Oregon, one of the three states working with the FBI to provide the initial information that populates the database, have not said one word about participation in the program.
  • The NextGov.com Web site says privacy advocate groups "have been briefed" about N-DEx. If this is true, none of them have come out to say anything about the existence of the database.
  • FBI Division Assistant Director Tom Bush requested $62 million to fund the project through 2010.
  • FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House and Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittees earlier this month but did not mention the initiative by name as he described the FBI’s $7.1 billion FY09 budget request, which includes $434 million for Bush’s division.
  • According to the FBI, privacy and civil liberty safeguards are built into N-DEx, with access to the data being controlled by the agency that “owns” the information.
  • Each law enforcement agency using the system decides what to share and with whom, and only a small number of users in each agency will have access to the program, meaning this will not be information available to the public, and therefore journalists, the ultimate government watchdogs.
  • The FBI says it will keep N-DEx free of intelligence and commercial data, but does not elaborate on what it considers intelligence and commercial data or why it will not use this information.
  • The FBI admits N-DEx "is certain to contain inaccurate or incomplete information" and might be an attractive target for illegal access, meaning they expect computer hackers to compromise the database.
  • I can't find any information, or as much as a reference, to security safeguards built into the system, or anything about what type of firewalls, if any (you have to assume something will be created), will be in place.
And that's just what freaks me out from gathering what little information is available out there on the Internet. God knows what issues lay in wait for anyone who has ever been arrested, convicted or charged with a crime.

You do know that when you are charged with a crime or civil offense, like a traffic ticket, that those files are kept on your permanent record, even when you are found not guilty by a jury of you peers, and that those files are accessible, both virtually (online) and physically (in person), to anyone who pays to conduct a personal background check or has the know-how to research court documents.

If you don't believe me do a background search on yourself and see what pops up. And I know from personal experience that this information is often accessed by potential employers when you are applying for a job. In fact, once in my life I was offered a job only to have the offer removed from the table after the company looked into my past and saw that I was charged with drug possession offenses, even though I was found not guilty on all counts and have no felonies on my record.

I have been on probation before, and when I was in college I got a DWI after being pulled over for having a busted tail light, failing the roadside sobriety test and then blowing a .12 on the breathalizer. So, it's probably safe to assume that I am registered in the N-DEx database, but of course I have no idea what information they have about me.

I probably sound paranoid to some of you, or like I am susceptible to government conspiracy theories, but I'm not. I find conspiracy theories entertaining, but that's as far as it goes. A former editor of mine once descried me to a potential employer as having a "healthy distrust of government," so I guess I do have a propensity toward believing that The Feds take action that is often counterintuitive to the best interests of U.S. citizens, and often enough than not harmful to our basic rights as outlined in the Constitution.

The truth is, I am afraid that as we move further and further into the Cold World War, more popularly known as the War on Terror, that we are fighting against intangible enemies, more and more of our civil liberties are going to be removed, and eventually we will find ourselves living in an Orwellian-type society -- not with a literal Big Brother hanging on the wall watching our every move through two-way television sets, but with programs and databases like N-DEx that pry into our lives and open personal information once considered private to scrutiny by government officials.

N-DEx is a step in this direction, even though its stated intent is to help law enforcement keep tabs on criminals, criminal activity and locations where crime is a problem. If The Law already can use
this system to track people "by clothing, tattoos, associates, cars and other identifying factors," and specific agencies will "own" the information with only certain people allowed access to the database, it already can be used for other purposes than law enforcement.

Besides, the FBI says it can track people through known associates. That means if you know anybody who has ever been arrested, or charged with a crime, they can keep tabs on you as well.

And this fact alone, oh beloved readers, should scare the shit out of you too.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Until recently, I was a dyed in the wool Republican. I served in the military. I voted and paid my taxes.

While I still do the last, I too am horrified by this. I used to believe that if I had nothing to hide then I shouldn't worry. But this administration has taken too many of our liberties and encroached upon them. They've been subtly eroding our rights and we stupidly go along with it.

We are lazy and complacent and this WILL come back and bite us on the backside.

Don't even get me started on the COG (continuation of government) laws. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if there were some sudden "war" (where we choose to be the aggressor) and the government cites the COG laws to ensure a democrat doesn't get in office.

And no, I'm not a conspiracy theorist either. Just a worried realist.

Thanks for the post.

Wag said...

The Continuation of Government laws are something I plan on diving into here at The Wagger in the near future. Thanks for the comment. I hope you keep reading The Wagger, and that you tell a friend or two about us!!!