Thursday, March 01, 2007

Data Mining is Dangerous

Had a DUI? A misdemeanor charge from back in college? Don't plan on going to Canada any time soon. At least don't expect smooth sailing.

Because of a demand by the US Dept of Homeland Security to have criminal background infomration from Canadians, there is a new program in place to share data between the US system and the Canadian system. Pretty much anything in your criminal record -- from speeding tickets to possession of marijuana back in 1960 -- that can be seen by a state sheriff is now available to the border guards in Canada.

Travellers are being turned back at the border for transgressions that are thirty years old.

...ask the well-to-do East Bay couple who flew to British Columbia this month for an eight-day ski vacation at the famed Whistler Chateau, where rooms run to $500 a night. They'd made the trip many times, but were surprised at the border to be told that the husband would have to report to "secondary'' immigration.

There, in a room he estimates was filled with 60 other concerned travelers, he was told he was "a person who was inadmissible to Canada.'' The problem? A conviction for marijuana possession.

In 1975.

The rules haven't changed, of course; Canada has always had laws controlling immigration and entry to the country. But now Canada has records, shared real-time (apparently) from the US, that make the job a bit easier. Canada has always turned away those have criminal records -- crossing the border is entering another country, even though we have taken for granted that things go pretty smoothly between the US and Canada. But this new data mining is overkill.

I imagine this is the result of the us demanding all this information and Canada (quite rightly) demanded reciprocity. I, for one, am a bit annoyed that the DHS both demanded this info of other countries and has made our crinimal databases available. I know that the intent is to find and refuse entry to actual criminals, but a misdemeanor charge from 1975? This is relevant how?

And this is only the beginning. Canada is only the first country with which we are sharing data. I'm sure others will demand the same access. Eventually, the criminal records of every US citizen will be collated and shared, probably with other countries, as they also request the data in return for their own records.

Does Canada have this right? Of course they do, just as the US has a right to screen those it lets through our borders. I'm not arguing that at all. Foreign nations have every right to make their own laws and enforce them. We don't get special treatment, and while it's going to be problematic for some travellers, Canada hasn't done anything wrong here.

That's not what makes me twitch about this -- what makes me all freaked about this is the beaurocrats and politicians suddenly thinking they know about databases, data mining, and the sharing of information. Records from the municipal, state, and federal leveel are being gathered into a single database and made available. It contains everything, even minor infractions, and are being opened up to beaurocrats all over the world.

This is what I do for a living, and believe me, I have ZERO trust that a slew of cooperating government agencies understands the ramifications of making this data essentially public. It's only a matter of time before something that shouldn't be public, that shouldn't be shared, makes it into that matrix.

1 comment:

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