The FBI is gathering and sorting information about Americans to help search for potential terrorists, insurance cheats and crooked pharmacists, according to a government report.
Records about identity thefts, real estate transactions, motor vehicle accidents and complaints about Internet drug companies are being searched for common threads to aid law enforcement officials, the Justice Department said in a report to Congress on the agency’s data-mining practices.
In addition, the report disclosed government plans to build a new database to assess the risk posed by people identified as potential or suspected terrorists.
The chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the Justice Department said the database was “ripe for abuse.” The American Civil Liberties Union immediately derided the quality of the information that could be used to score someone as a terror threat.
The report, sent to Congress this month, marked the department’s first public detailing of six of its data-mining tools, which look for patterns to catch criminals. The disclosure was required by lawmakers when they renewed the USA Patriot Act in 2005. It comes as the Justice Department faces sharp criticism from Congress and civil liberties advocates for violating peoples’ privacy rights in terror and spy investigations.
Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said the databases are strictly regulated to protect privacy rights and civil liberties.
“Each of these initiatives is extremely valuable for investigators, allowing them to analyze and process lawfully acquired information more effectively in order to detect potential criminal activity and focus resources appropriately,” Boyd said in a statement.
All but one of the databases — the one to track terrorists — have been up and running for several years, the report showed. The lone exception is the System to Assess Risk, or STAR, program to rate the threat posed by people already identified as suspected terrorists or named on terror watch lists.
The five other databases detailed in the report include:
- An identity theft intelligence program, used since 2003, to examine and analyze consumer complaints to identify major identity theft rings in a given geographic area.
- A health care fraud system that looks at billing records in government and private insurance claims databases to identify fraud or over-billing by health care providers. It also has been running since 2003.
- A database created in 2005 that looks at consumer complaints to the Food and Drug Administration to identify larger trends about fraud by Internet pharmacies.
- A housing fraud program that analyzes public data on real estate transactions to identify fraudulent housing purchases, including property flipping. The database was built in 1999.
- A system that compares National Insurance Crime Bureau information against other data to crack down on fake car accident insurance claims and
identify major offenders.
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