By Donna Leinwand
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A massive new database program that culls information from more than nine federal sources will help law enforcement agents link possible terrorists or other suspected criminals with associates whose records are in the system, federal officials say.
The program's goal is to close gaps in information-sharing identified in The 9/11 Commission Report, which chided law enforcement for failing to piece together the hijackers' terrorist cell. Critics say it raises privacy and accuracy concerns.
"The system will make connections for us," says Jason Henry, who runs the information-sharing program at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Other federal, state and local law enforcement will be able to access the ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection System, dubbed "ICEPIC." It will collect information from databases that track foreign students, visitors and immigrants as well as criminals and suspected terrorists.
Among the databases is the government's terrorist watch list. More than 15,000 people have appealed to have their names taken off that list, saying it contains incomplete or inaccurate information.
ICE declined to identify all the databases "because that becomes a road map for a terrorist or a member of a criminal organization," Henry said.
Investigators previously searched 10 to 15 databases manually for people who met "suspicious criteria," a process that could take as long as three days per person, Henry says.
Civil liberties and privacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union say they worry investigators will arrest innocent people based on information from flawed databases.
"The difficulty is if you have bad data," ACLU attorney Tim Sparapani says. "Then that bad data migrates from one database to another database. You end up with all sorts of innocent people getting stopped or tagged as being suspicious."
James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy & Technology says if the agency builds in safeguards to protect innocent people, the data can be useful.
ICE officials say they will not use the system to monitor travel or behavior patterns. "It's not data mining," says spokesman Brandon Alvarez Montgomery.
Sparapani counters: "This is data mining of the highest order. They can say the sky is pink, but we all know it's blue."
ICEPIC will be posted in the Federal Register on Tuesday and will be in use after a 30-day comment period, Henry says.
Copyright 2008 USA TODAY
New database will mine 9 federal sources to assist police