The ATF Wants to Know Who You Know

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) are legally prohibited from creating a database of gun owners (but they probably do it anyways) but they aren’t prohibited from creating other databases. Recently the ATF expressed interest in a database that would be able to list associations between individuals:

The ATF doesn’t just want a huge database to reveal everything about you with a few keywords. It wants one that can find out who you know. And it won’t even try to friend you on Facebook first.

According to a recent solicitation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the bureau is looking to buy a “massive online data repository system” for its Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information (OSII). The system is intended to operate for at least five years, and be able to process automated searches of individuals, and “find connection points between two or more individuals” by linking together “structured and unstructured data.”

Primarily, the ATF states it wants the database to speed-up criminal investigations. Instead of requiring an analyst to manually search around for your personal information, the database should “obtain exact matches from partial source data searches” such as social security numbers (or even just a fragment of one), vehicle serial codes, age range, “phonetic name spelling,” or a general area where your address is located. Input that data, and out comes your identity, while the computer automatically establishes connections you have with others.

In other words the ATF wants a database that can give them a list of potential victims because, we all know, guilt in this country can be easily established by association. Instead of having one victim the ATF can get an entire list of victims.

An interesting side note to ponder is data sources. Obviously a database that is meant to display personal associations would need a great deal of data about individuals and their friends. While it is unlikely that anybody would volunteer such information for the expressed purpose of entering into a government database this information is already available through social media sites. Facebook and Google+, for example, are goldmines of personal information and both services make money by selling user data. In other populating the database requested by the ATF is simple because people have already provided such information to services that make money off of selling that information. Online anonymity is important because any information you provide about yourself is potentially for sale to those looking for it.