The ATF Wants âMassiveâ Online Database to Find Out Who Your Friends Are
Posted in the Belmont Forum
#1 Apr 5, 2013
Could guns be included in this? No, they would not do that.
The ATF is looking to speed up its caseload with an automated database for searching individuals â like these cadets during a 2010 civilian training session â and discovering the relationships between them. Photo: ATF
The ATF doesnât just want a huge database to reveal everything about you with a few keywords. It wants one that can find out who you know. And it wonât even try to friend you on Facebook first.
According to a recent solicitation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the bureau is looking to buy a âmassive online data repository systemâ for its Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information (OSII). The system is intended to operate for at least five years, and be able to process automated searches of individuals, and âfind connection points between two or more individualsâ by linking together âstructured and unstructured data.â
Primarily, the ATF states it wants the database to speed-up criminal investigations. Instead of requiring an analyst to manually search around for your personal information, the database should âobtain exact matches from partial source data searchesâ such as social security numbers (or even just a fragment of one), vehicle serial codes, age range,âphonetic name spelling,â or a general area where your address is located. Input that data, and out comes your identity, while the computer automatically establishes connections you have with others.
Many other specific requirements are also to be expected for a federal law enforcement agency: searching names, phone numbers,ânationwide utility dataâ and reverse phone searches. The data will then be collected to help out during investigations and provide ârelevant information and intelligence products.â Thereâs no hint the database is to be used to track gun sales, which is a big part of the ATFâs job, as the bureau is prohibited by law from establishing a centralized electronic database for gun purchases.
Itâs necessary to note, however, that the ATF already does most of these things. Tracking down your identity, financial data, and finding connections between you and your kinfolk â your relatives, friends and business associates â is what criminal investigations are all about. And the bureauâs intelligence analysts already use a number of databases to help piece this information together.
But hunting through them for information thatâs relevant and timely is a mind-numbing and time-consuming job.âMany of these tasks are performed manually,â the solicitation states,âresulting in longer turnaround times on important information and intelligence research and analysis requests.â
The bureau wants this new system to do all that gathering and research automatically. Which sounds like a good deal, in theory, allowing federal investigators to more easily bust criminals during a hot case. It could potentially give the investigators a lot more information than your sense of privacy may be comfortable with, or information not strictly relevant to a case. At the same time, the ATF is widely perceived as a weak, stagnant and underfunded agency. Even if it has a database that can track you down and find out who your friends are, it wonât necessarily be able to apply that to tracing gun transactions due to Congressional restrictions. If the agency finds a gun linked to a crime, and then traces the gun to someone who bought it from someone else, all of that work figuring out the whoâs-who will still likely have to be done manually.
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