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FBI demonstrated the database to reporters yesterday in part to address criticism that its technology was failing and outdated as the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks nears.
[…] The data warehouse is an effort to “connect the dots” that the FBI was accused of missing in the months before the 2001 attacks, bureau officials said. About a quarter of the information comes from the FBI’s records and criminal case files. The rest — including suspicious financial activity reports, no-fly lists, and lost and stolen passport data — comes from the Treasury, State and Homeland Security departments and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
[…] The system, designed by Chiliad Inc. of Amherst, Mass., can be programmed to send alerts to agents on new information, Grigg said. Names, Social Security numbers and driver’s license details can be linked and cross-matched across hundreds of millions of records. [Emphasis added]
[…] 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.”