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Friday, March 21, 2014

Navy database tracks civilians raising new fears of domestic spying

Whether any action or intrusion on individual liberty is Constitutional or not, is no longer a consideration of the federal government or its agencies. Unless, of course, it is vigorously applied as a tool to protect them.

Navy database tracks civilians' parking tickets, fender-benders, raising fears of domestic spying

By Mark Flatten | MARCH 21, 2014

A parking ticket, traffic citation or involvement in a minor fender-bender are enough to get a person's name and other personal information logged into a massive, obscure federal database run by the U.S. military.

The Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or LinX, has already amassed 506.3 million law enforcement records ranging from criminal histories and arrest reports to field information cards filled out by cops on the beat even when no crime has occurred.
"That may be where you are starting to cross the line on mass collection of information on innocent people just because you can."
LinX is a national information-sharing hub for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It is run by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, raising concerns among some military law experts that putting such detailed data about ordinary citizens in the hands of military officials crosses the line that generally prohibits the armed forces from conducting civilian law enforcement operations.

Those fears are heightened by recent disclosures of the National Security Agency spying on Americans, and the CIA allegedly spying on Congress, they say.

Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, called LinX “domestic spying.”

“It gives me the willies,” said Fidell, a member of the Defense Department’s Legal Policy Board and a board member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War.

Fidell reviewed the Navy's LinX website at the request of the Washington Examiner to assess the propriety of putting such a powerful database under the control of a military police entity.

“Clearly, it cannot be right that any part of the Navy is collecting traffic citation information,” Fidell said. “This sounds like something from a third-world country, where you have powerful military intelligence watching everybody.”

The military has a history of spying on Americans. The Army did it during the Vietnam War and the Air Force did it after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Among the groups subjected to military spying in the name of protecting military facilities from terrorism was a band of Quakers organizing a peace rally in Florida.

LinX administrators say it is nothing more than an information-sharing network that connects records from participating police departments across the country.

LinX was created in 2003 and put under NCIS, which has counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering missions in addition to responsibility for criminal investigations. LinX was originally supposed to help NCIS protect naval bases from terrorism.

More than 1,300 agencies participate, including The FBI and other Department of Justice divisions, the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon. 

Police departments along both coasts and in Texas, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii are in LinX.

The number of records in the system has mushroomed from about 50 million in 2007 to more than 10 times that number today.

Background checks for gun sales and applications for concealed weapons permits are not included in the system, according to NCIS officials and representatives of major state and local agencies contacted by the Examiner.

The director of NCIS, Andrew Traver, drew stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association after President Obama twice nominated him to be head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The nomination failed to go forward in the Senate both times, largely because of what the NRA described as Traver's advocacy for stricter gun laws.

He became NCIS director in October.

NCIS officials could not say how much has been spent on LinX since it was created 2003. They provided figures since the 2008 fiscal year totaling $42.3 million. Older records are not available from NCIS.

Incomplete data from shows at least $7.2 million more was spent between 2003 and 2008. The actual figure is probably much higher, since the spending listed on the disclosure site only totals $23 million since 2003.

Other law enforcement databases have limited information on things like criminal histories, said Kris Peterson, LinX division chief at NCIS.

More detailed narratives and things like radio dispatch logs and pawn shop records don’t show up in those databases, but are available in LinX, he said.
Participating agencies must feed their information into the federal data warehouse and electronically update it daily in return for access.

Why LinX wound up in the NCIS, a military law enforcement agency, is not clear. Current NCIS officials could not explain the reasoning, other than to say it grew out of the department's need for access to law enforcement records relevant to criminal investigations.

A 2008 investigation into the removal of nine U.S. attorneys during the George W. Bush administration found that an overly aggressive push for DOJ to embrace LinX led to the firing of John McKay, then the U.S. attorney for western Washington state.

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