I have a natural aversion to government databases. This may seem ironic coming from a man whose name probably appears in dozens of them but that’s beside the point. Databases for sex offenders, felons, known gang members, and gun owners are always sold as being valuable tools for protecting the public. What is often ignored by proponents of such databases is how easily they can be abused by law enforcers. Denver law enforcers are the latest in a long line of law enforcers busted for abusing government databases for personal gain:
Denver Police officers caught using a confidential database for personal reasons should face stiffer penalties, the city’s independent monitor argued in a report released Tuesday.
The report, which reviewed both the Denver Police and the Denver Sheriff Department’s performance for 2015, found several instances of officers abusing both the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and it’s state counterpart, the Colorado Crime Information Center (CCIC). Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell said in the report that he believes the penalties for those caught aren’t stiff enough to deter further abuse.
One officer, for example, was found to have used the database to assist an acquaintance who was going through a divorce determine the identity of the man he believed his wife was having an affair with. Then it spiraled out of control, possibly enabling violence from the vengeful ex-husband:
Shortly thereafter, the ex-husband began driving by the man’s house and threatening him. The ex-husband also found and contacted the man’s wife to tell her that the man was having an affair. The ex-husband told the wife that he knew their home address, showed her a picture of the man’s car, and asked her questions about the man to find out what gym he worked out at, what shift he worked, and where he spent his leisure time.
In another instance, a Denver Police officer who was at a hospital investigating a reported sexual assault made “small talk” with a female employee at the hospital who wasn’t involved in the investigation. The report continues:
At the end of her shift, the female employee returned home and found a voicemail message from the officer on her personal phone. She had not given the officer her phone number, and was upset that he had obtained it (she assumed) by improperly using law enforcement computer systems.
Note the lack of punishments received by officers caught abusing these databases. The first mentioned infraction resulted in a written reprimand and the second resulted in a fine of two days pay in addition to a written reprimand.
There are two major problems here. First, the existence of these databases. Second, the almost complete absence of oversight. These databases hold a tremendous amount of personal information on individuals. That information isn’t anonymized in any way so any officer can bring up the home address, phone number, and other personal information of those entered into the database. No oversight is apparently needed as multiple officers have been able to access the database for unauthorized uses. And no apparent interest in establishing oversight seems to exist since those finally caught abusing the database received no real punishment.
Databases containing personal information are dangerous to begin with. But when you add a complete lack of accountability for those accessing the databases, especially when they’re almost entirely shielded from personal liability, you have a recipe for disaster. Never let yourself be lulled into believing establishing a government database is necessary or in any way a good thing.