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, The Washington Post reports.
"OneDOJ," as the system is known, holds approximately 1 million case records and will 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 system has been built over the past year and a half and 150 police agencies have access. Pilot programs are operating in Seattle, San Diego and a few other cities. Now DOJ is ready to expand OneDOJ.
Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty announced that the program will be expanded immediately to 15 additional regions and that federal authorities will "accelerate . . . efforts to share information from both open and closed cases."
Eventually, OneDOJ will be a centralized warehouse for law enforcement data, made available not only to DOJ's five agencies - FBI, DEA, US Marshalls, Bureau of Prisons and ATF - but to as many as 750 local police agencies.
"The goal is that all of U.S. law enforcement will be able to look at each other's records to solve cases and protect U.S. citizens," McNulty said. "With OneDOJ, we will essentially hook them up to a pipe that will take them into its records."
Privacy advocates are worried about this development, in that it's not clear what protections for individual privacy will be in place. They warn of abuse and that old misinformation may wind haunting cleared suspects for years.
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."
The groups are wary of the general trend to information-sharing across agencies and governments. Such approaches need strongs checks and balances.
"I look at this system and imagine it will raise many of the same questions that the whole information-sharing approach is raising across the government," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based group that has criticized many of the government's data-gathering policies.
"Information that's collected in the law enforcement realm can find [its way] into other arenas and be abused very easily," Rotenberg said.
The concerns can easily be met because the system is subject to the same oversight procedures as any data collection, McNulty said.