Feeds

Too many Watch Lists – Congress

How many does a country need?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

While errors in the Transportation Security Administration's "no-fly" list have famously raised the ire of innocent air travelers misidentified as terrorists, it's far from the only government watch list in use.

In a report released last week, the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, counted no less than 12 different government databases cataloging purportedly dangerous people, maintained by nine different federal agencies and accessed by 50 others -- a tangled web of largely incompatible systems that the GAO would like to see merged into one.

"[A]gencies have developed their respective watch lists, and have managed their use, in isolation from each other, and in recognition of each agency's unique legal, cultural, and technological environments," wrote investigators. "The result is inconsistent and limited sharing."

All of those lists contain names and birth dates; others -- like the INS's "Automated Biometric Identification System" and the State Department's "TIPOFF" database -- also hold fingerprints and photographs. Some include information on large financial transactions and travel history.

The problem, says the GAO, is that the systems use different software, run on three different operating systems, and store data in incompatible formats. All but four use closed proprietary standards. Seven aren't on interagency networks, so when sharing does occur, it's handled the old fashioned way -- by hand.

"According to several of these agencies, the manual workarounds are labor-intensive and time-consuming, and they limit the timeliness of the data provided," the report notes. "For example, data from the TIPOFF system are shared directly with the National Automated Immigration Lookout System through a regular update on diskette."

Consolidating the watch lists would benefit national security, investigators conclude.

Some of the government agencies involved agreed with the GAO that more sharing of data should occur, but seem less eager to create a single Super Watch List.

In a written response to the report, the Justice Department, which manages six of the lists, even cited civil liberties concerns over the idea of combining watch lists that include people suspected of criminal or terrorist involvement with lists of convicted offenders. But the bulk of Justice's response is devoted to the need to keep its lists secret from the public.

"There is no discussion of classified information in your report and the affect it will have on a consolidation effort due to the protection requirements such as clearances, 'need to know,' protection against improper disclosure, and handling of data," the department wrote.

The secrecy surrounding the watch lists is one of the things that peeves civil libertarians. Last month, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the FBI, the Justice Department and the Transportation Security Administration in an effort to find out how two San Francisco peace activist wound up on the "no-fly" list, and were consequently detained and questioned at an airport.

© SecurityFocus logo

The next step in data security

More from The Register

next story
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Infosec geniuses hack a Canon PRINTER and install DOOM
Internet of Stuff securo-cockups strike yet again
THREE QUARTERS of Android mobes open to web page spy bug
Metasploit module gobbles KitKat SOP slop
'Speargun' program is fantasy, says cable operator
We just might notice if you cut our cables
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
Greater dev access to iOS 8 will put us AT RISK from HACKERS
Knocking holes in Apple's walled garden could backfire, says securo-chap
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.