When a police officer stops your car and dials into his department’s databank, he or she can learn a lot about you. What’s to stop abuse of your private history? Not much. The AP’s Justice Department Correspondent Eric Tucker says misuse of what should be protected data happens all the time…but usually, it never gets reported.
If data were money, we’d all be rich, because every day, hour and minute, all of us are generating lots of data, especially as more and more parts of our lives are recorded, — our purchases, our phone calls, where we go and how we get there, all marked down in receipts, call records, toll records, GPS registrations… all your data.
And every year for the past 20 we’ve been making quantum leaps in data collection, data storage and speedy, easy access to all that data. Which can save lives, as when someone’s medical history can follow them instantaneously wherever they might need an emergency diagnosis, or data can protect us when law enforcement finds and convicts criminals by following all those data-tracks.
But an investigation by reporters from the Associated Press (AP) found that all those data points could be abused, often by officers from the same police departments that have been using data-based crime-fighting in good ways.
How big a problem is this? The real answer here is, “Nobody knows,” or at least nobody can prove it, — because, AP found, of “insufficient data.” In a computer age when you can track almost anything, few police departments and fewer state and federal agencies have chosen even to mark down instances of data misuse.
But it sure marks your life when you are a victim of virtual stalking, vulnerable because your abuser seems to have access to every recorded part of your private life.
Eric Tucker is the Justice Department correspondent for the Associated Press in Washington. He and Sadie Gurman of AP’s Denver Bureau were the lead reporters on the investigative team that looked into misuse of law enforcement databases.