The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is seeking to create a massive online database that can pull up an individual’s personal information, connections, and associates. Currently called “Investigative System,” the ATF is asking private companies to provide bids to build it.
The system is described as a “massive online data repository system that contains a wide variety of data sources both historically and current that can be utilized in support of investigations and backgrounds.”
According to the ATF’s official web site, the system will be utilized by staff “to provide rapid searches on various entities for example; names, telephone numbers, utility data and reverse phone look-ups, as a means to assist with investigations, and background research on people, assets and businesses.”
An overview of the solicitation states:
- Staff will utilize “a number of internal databases as well as external sources to provide timely and relevant information and intelligence products to law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels.”
- The system “provides a means to rapidly check records across the country” and is “necessary in assisting investigators, agents and analyst to find people, their assets, relatives, associates and more.”
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The ATF says they will use this system to provide information to intelligence analysts, special agents, inspectors, financial investigators, and law enforcement. The investigative system will allow ATF to “obtain exact matches from partial source data searches such as incomplete social security numbers, address, VIN numbers, etc.” The system will also have the ability to “link structured and unstructured data to find connection points between two or more individuals.”
According to the request for proposals that was issued last month, the database for ATF’s Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information would allow it to provide “timely and relevant information and intelligence products to law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels.” The office already provides such information, but it is often manually collected and therefore takes more time to produce.
ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun said the new database would not be used to analyze gun purchases, but instead would be used to gather publicly available data without requiring agents to go to multiple sources. However, Wired reports, “it could still help agents track you down a lot faster than they could before — along with finding out everything else about you.”
While some law enforcement agencies are seeking technology to find patterns in existing data, others are clamoring for access to even more data on the web. New York police officials have said they want to scour the web for chatter that could identify a gunman to prevent another mass shooting. In a speech last month, the FBI’s general counsel said the bureau’s “top priority” in 2013 is to modernize surveillance law so that authorities can monitor in real time the web activities of Americans suspected of committing crimes.
The question to ask, however, is how far will they take this new power?