Friday, May 22, 2009

Police abuse access to official databases

From the Bay State:
Police from communities across the state have repeatedly tapped into the state's criminal records system to improperly access information on celebrities and "high-profile citizens," according to a scathing audit released yesterday that also branded the system as obsolete and flawed.

Law enforcement personnel looked up personal information on Patriots star Tom Brady 968 times - seeking anything from his driver's license photo and home address, to whether he had purchased a gun - and auditors discovered "repeated searches and queries" on dozens of other celebrities such as Matt Damon, James Taylor, Celtics star Paul Pierce, and Red Sox owner John Henry, said two state officials familiar with the audit.

The Criminal Offender Record Information system, with its massive databases of criminal records, driving histories, car ownership, and Social Security numbers, is intended to provide police and prosecutors with complete portraits of individuals who have been arrested or brought into the court system. Reports are available to other users such as landlords and some employers conducting background checks on prospective tenants and job seekers. Access is supposed to be restricted to authorized law enforcement users, who are specially trained.

But the yearlong review by state Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci depicts a system repeatedly accessed by users "without any apparent work-related justification."

Such unauthorized use could be considered fraud under federal law, and "disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal and/or criminal prosecution" could follow misuse of the system, DeNucci's audit said.

Curtis Wood, executive director of the Criminal History Systems Board, acknowledged that inappropriate searches have been made over the years, but said the number is small.

"Compared to the 13 million transactions in the system a month, the number is a small representation of our user community," he said. "I'm fairly comfortable in saying that 99 percent do not misuse the system."

Wood said the agency is able to determine where the queries originated and will take action where necessary. He said he believes that many of the searches were legitimate, with officers looking up individuals who happen to have the same names as celebrities.

DeNucci's audit condemned the decades-old system as antiquated, highly vulnerable to mistakes, and easily accessed by unauthorized users. With terminals in many locations that allowed anyone to look up information, the system permitted law enforcement officials access without fear of being identified and detected. [emphasis added] ...

Article here. If the system is "highly vulnerable to mistakes", I'll bet there are lots of outdated or inaccurate records in the system. Hard to imagine that the system processes 13 million transactions a month -- Massachusetts isn't that big of a state, although it is Big Government heavy to the point of obesity.

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