Spirit of J. Edgar Hoover still haunts FBI with N-Dex

J. Edgar Hoover was the long time Director of the FBI, 48 years to be exact.  Revered and despised by Americans for many reasons.  Some reasons for that disdain is emerging in modern day with Mr. Hoover's former agency with N-Dex.  N-Dex is the FBI push to have all police records throughout the nation be in one big data repository or database.

Mr. Hoover was a fastidious consumer and organizer of files and data. During his time the FBI had only millions of files, with N-Dex there will be hundreds of millions, if not billions.  Mr Hoover thrived on knowing as much as he could on everything he thought was important to fight crime and for the national security of the nation.  Sounds like similar rationale for N-Dex

Yes, time are a changing, but is there more accountability and transparency than in 1972 when Mr. Hoover died?  Yes, there is, but the institutional suspicions if the public questions are still there.

The FBI has approached Minnesota law enforcement and correction communities to share with them and to rest of the nation, millions of records on its people.  This information could be from the innocent stop by a police officer to ask where you are going and at same time takes down your identifying data, your call about noise or the barking dog about the neighbor, or your witnessing of a crime. The data is in the form of incident/case report data, arrest data, and booking and incarceration data from law enforcement, jails and prisons, and probation.

There will be personally identifiable information such as names, address, and phone numbers, as well as non identifying descriptive information about crime incidents and criminal investigations.  It is the local or state agency that determines what an incident report is.  The FBI does have parameters, but it is up to the local law enforcement agencies to submit within those guidelines.  The problem is the FBI parameters are very wide.

Victims, witnesses, reporters of crime, and alleged suspects names, adult and juvenile, will be in the database.
 
You might wonder why this matters to you, a law-abiding citizen.


And that's where what we have been hearing and reading in the media comes into play.  The incident of a great number of law enforcement officers looking up an individual on law enforcement databases.  Or even when our own State Legislature overwhelmingly supported a bill to ban participation of our state in Real ID, a Federal program which sets ID standards and collects information.  One huge factor why legislators opposed Real ID was the sharing of our data with Federal agencies.  An issue with N-Dex is our data can be shared to "aid in homeland security.

To illustrate even more is the recent story that was about suspicious activity reports and the Mall of America.  The article marks how data can get into an information system on a individual who is doing no wrong, and the data is shared with the FBI and possibly the Department of Homeland Security.

So what are consequences or potential unintended consequences of Minnesotans sharing with the FBI and being a part of a database for government officials and law enforcement people to have access to.

One consequence could be an injury to reputation or liberty if information is inaccurate from the get go on submits. Fearing the possibility of ending up on a government watch list is another.  Serious jeopardy of using data out of context, data in one situation is accurate and in another misleading. These records rolling into N-Dex from Minnesota about you WILL circulate.  People can see the potential for real harm and abuse to individuals, the loss of privacy and liberty being the outcome.

The FBI with its presentations have been direct in answering people's questions about N-Dex, but there are shortcomings.  One is that it is N-Dex files are not under the 1974 Privacy Act for purposes of subject access.  There are others.

The Criminal and Juvenile Justice Information Task Force will be discussing the approach which the state should take with N-Dex on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 9:00am to 4:00pm at the Minnesota Judicial Center, Room 230.  The meeting is open to the public.

Basically, it comes to the following options.  Do nothing and the FBI will approach all the law enforcement, corrections, and jail agencies for all their records which they can do by current law and get them.  Or come up with a process to protect our privacy and liberties in a thoughtful way and then enact legislation to do that.

Hoover's legacy of secret files, deception, and trampling on rights and liberties hang over the FBI presently and in the foreseeable future.  But there has been change with the nation's top cop agency since the days of Hoover, evident by the FBI discussing publicly N-Dex.  Another alteration also has been a more ever vigilant public.