FBI shows off huge, multi-source linked database

The Washington Post reports on the FBI’s new counterterrorism database to help the war on terror:

The FBI has built a database with more than 659 million records — including terrorist watch lists, intelligence cables and financial transactions — culled from more than 50 FBI and other government agency sources. The system is one of the most powerful data analysis tools available to law enforcement and counterterrorism agents, FBI officials said yesterday.

The FBI demonstrated the database to reporters yesterday in part to address criticism that its technology was failing and outdated as the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks nears.

Privacy advocates said the Investigative Data Warehouse, launched in January 2004, raises concerns about how long the government stores such information and about the right of citizens to know what records are kept and correct information that is wrong.

David Sobel, senior counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the Federal Register has no record of the creation of such a system, a basic requirement of the Privacy Act. He also said the FBI’s use of an internal privacy assessment undercuts the intent of the privacy law.

FBI officials said the database is in “full compliance” with the law.

Sobel said he learned under a Freedom of Information Act disclosure last week that the system includes 250 million airline passenger records, stored permanently.

“It appears to be the largest collection of personal data ever amassed by the federal government,” he said. “When they develop the capability to cross-reference and data-mine all these previously separate sources of information, there are significant new privacy issues that need to be publicly debated.”

[via Daved Fraser @ Canadian Privacy Law Blog]

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