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EFF to probe FBI's new monster database

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing the US Department of Justice to learn more about the FBI's new monster database, called the Investigative Data Warehouse, or IDW.

The Bureau has been eager to showcase its new counterterrorist gimmick, after expensive and largely humiliating efforts to launch its Trilogy and Virtual Case File gimmicks, which have produced nothing except the squandering of over $170 million in taxpayer money. The IDW system, in contrast, can at least be made to work well enough to dazzle reporters in a series of controlled demonstrations, which the FBI enacted around the fifth anniversary of 9/11, to highlight the Bureau's supposed progress as a counterterrorist outfit, and, of course, its first working computer system.

The FBI had boasted to the media of IDW's capacity to trawl vast reams of data efficiently and productively, and of its current (and no doubt rapidly growing) cache of nearly 600 million records. There are plans to connect the tool to databases maintained by DHS, the NSA, the CIA, and the military within a couple of years, for some extra terror-busting punch.

The EFF reckons that it would behoove us all to know just what sort of data bits are being used, how they are obtained, how they are secured, how personal they might be, how many citizens are affected, and how one might go about getting spurious data relating to oneself removed, or at least corrected. Indeed, it would be good to know whether this scheme is even legal, as we consider the number of patently illegal programs of the Bush administration's so-called war on terror, a number of which have been or are being legitimized by Congress during what is likely to be the final weeks of a Republican majority.

For all its eagerness to tout the IDW to journalists, the FBI has been less than forthcoming about its details, no doubt because if the man in the street had an inkling of the sort of information stored about him in this database, the Bureau would have a PR crisis on its hands. So it has decided, rather predictably, that the details should remain secret for national security reasons.

Hence the lawsuit. It's nice of the EFF to try, but they do have a rather spotty record when it comes to defending the public's interests. A well-meaning outfit perhaps, but ultimately not all that effective. But the IDW and a host of other dubious Bush administration innovations and assaults on privacy and liberty are no doubt going to figure prominently in some very public hearings on Capitol Hill once the Democrats win a majority. There will be a two-year period during which they can embarrass the administration, and possibly get some of the worst of the Bush legacy undone.

The pity is that they will all start defending the leftover mechanisms of executive power-abuse when a Democrat sits in the Oval Office, say around 2008, and even begin adding to them; but that's how the game is played. ®

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