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I am a neolibertarian minded individual who feels that freedom and individual rights take precedence over the wants of government. I believe government exists to serve the people and not to protect us from ourselves. I am an advocate for private firearms ownership, smaller government, reduced taxes and freedom to live your life however you choose, providing you do not directly hurt others.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Potential U.S. Terrorist Database Quadrupled in 4 Years

My previous post mentions that government shouldn't be trusted with a massive identity database. The story in the title link further supports my case, and I encourage you to go read the article in its entirety. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:
Ballooning from fewer than 100,000 files in 2003 to about 435,000, the growing database threatens to overwhelm the people who manage it. "The single biggest worry that I have is long-term quality control," said Russ Travers, in charge of TIDE at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean.
Pause for a moment and think about that. 435,000 people are already in this database, which is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Kansas City, Sacramento or Cleveland.
The bar for inclusion is low, and once someone is on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it. At any stage, the process can lead to "horror stories" of mixed-up names and unconfirmed information, Travers acknowledged.
I understand that there is probably a legitimate need to track potential terrorists, but there should be a simple process for getting yourself removed from this database in the event that you are experiencing negative consequences as a result of a mistake.
In 2004 and 2005, misidentifications accounted for about half of the tens of thousands of times a traveler's name triggered a watch-list hit, the Government Accountability Office reported in September. Congressional committees have criticized the process, some charging that it collects too much information about Americans, others saying it is ineffective against terrorists.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said last year that his wife had been delayed repeatedly while airlines queried whether Catherine Stevens was the watch-listed Cat Stevens. The listing referred to the Britain-based pop singer who converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. The reason Islam is not allowed to fly to the United States is secret.
I have followed this issue since the passing of the Patriot Act, and have found news stories about infants, two year olds and other seemingly harmless people that have been added to the no-fly lists. While I have no use for Ted Stevens, it is ridiculous that a U.S. Senator's wife gets flagged by the system because of a similarity to a male British singer. The system needs to work better and include a modicum of common sense.
The 80 TIDE analysts get "thousands of messages a day," Travers said, much of the data "fragmentary," "inconsistent" and "sometimes just flat-out wrong."
With any old scrap of unreliable information being fed into this database, it's no wonder that the list of names have quadrupled in four years. At the current rate of growth, by 2010, this system will contain nearly 2 million names, a number larger than the population of 15 different U.S. states. If this same growth continues until 2014, the list will include 8 million people, more than the population of 39 different U.S. states. Data mining is a useful tool, but the database must be accurate, and must have a viable mechanism for removing faulty information. We need to take a serious look at the current TIDE system and ensure that it is actually increasing public safety and is not evolving into something that violates the privacy of innocent people while generating false leads that could potentially spread our security staff so thin that they no longer have the resources to catch the real bad guys.

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