Drowning in Data?

Drowning in Data?

by / July 9, 2004
Getting credible, reliable information into the hands of those who need it is perhaps the key issue facing law enforcement today. In this issue of Crime and the Tech Effect, we'll explain why advocates say the USA Patriot Act helps law enforcement do just that.

We'll also explore the fears of those who say the act goes too far, inviting law enforcement to snoop on citizens unrelated to terrorism or terrorists.

The two stories that begin this issue -- Patriot Act: Ten Years Late? and Stepping Over the Line -- will take you through this charged debate.

Assessing the Patriot Act in one fell swoop is difficult.

It's important for law enforcement to share data, and advocates say the Patriot Act destroyed barriers previously restricting law enforcement from doing so.

But that's just part of the equation.

The Patriot Act, by itself, won't make us safer. Sharing information would be a step forward, but sharing relevant information is critical.

And we need better systems for pinpointing what's relevant and credible.

Law enforcement points to arrests of suspected terrorists since 9/11, which it says may not have been possible prior to the act.

But according to a report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a research center with offices at Syracuse University and in Washington, D.C., about 50 percent of the more than 1,000 terrorism cases filed by law enforcement since 9/11 were thrown out by federal prosecutors. More than one-third of those were rejected due to lack of evidence -- or lack of criminal intent in the evidence.

It's not clear whether the cases dropped by prosecutors indicate a poor job by investigators, or point to the difficult nature of collecting relevant evidence in such cases.

But if people like Maureen Baginski, the FBI's executive assistant director for intelligence, are saying things like, "We risk drowning one another in data," as she was recently quoted, there is obviously some concern about getting pertinent facts.

What is clear right now?

Better methods of separating pertinent data from irrelevant information are crucial for law enforcement to be as successful as needed in this era.