OneDOJ Database Stirs Privacy Fears
The Justice Department has teamed with police departments from around the country to create the OneDOJ database. People are concerned about the privacy implications.
The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials. The system, known as “OneDOJ,” already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.
The database is billed by its supporters as a much-needed step toward better information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, which have long complained about a lack of cooperation from the federal government. But civil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.
McNulty and other Justice officials emphasize that the information available in the database already is held individually by the FBI and other federal agencies. Much information will be kept out of the system, including data about public corruption cases, classified or sensitive topics, confidential informants, administrative cases and civil rights probes involving allegations of wrongdoing by police, officials said.
But civil-liberties and privacy advocates — many of whom are already alarmed by the proliferation of federal databases — warn that granting broad access to such a system is almost certain to invite abuse and lead to police mistakes.
Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the main problem is one of “garbage in, garbage out,” because case files frequently include erroneous or unproved allegations. “Raw police files or FBI reports can never be verified and can never be corrected,” Steinhardt said. “That is a problem with even more formal and controlled systems. The idea that they’re creating another whole system that is going to be full of inaccurate information is just chilling.”
Jeralyn Merritt agrees, saying “This is an intrusive program that should be stopped” and that “This is just another example of how the Administration’s excuse of a war on terror affects not those abroad, but those of us at home. It won’t make us safer, only less free.”
Frankly, I don’t see it. I have plenty of concerns about police abuse, especially at the local level where barely trained, semi-educated policemen have enormous discretionary power in the use of force. It seems obvious, though, that the ability to access data across state lines provides far more benefit than potential harm.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, there was much hand wringing about the stovepiping of police and intelligence data. But it’s far, far more likely that we could stop serial killers and track child molesters by removing those barriers than catching first-time terrorists. Indeed, one wonders how many brutal crimes could have been prevented if only police had access to existing law enforcement information about suspects?