Guardian, an FBI system for sharing counterterrorism information, suffers from numerous data integrity and management problems, according to a recent Inspector General's (IG) report. As a result of spotty oversight and noncompliance with internal rules, the report concluded that Guardian consistently holds inaccurate, outdated, and incomplete records. Out of the records the IG examined, 61 percent did not comply with the FBI's internal standards. Moreover, the report found the overwhelming majority of threat information held in Guardian had no nexus to actual terrorism.
The report's conclusions have significant implications for civil liberties. There is an increasing trend towards sharing information among federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies. One outcome of the trend is a huge influx of baseless threats into databases designed to aid terrorism investigations; these records then require analysis to ensure they are accurate and relate to credible threats. Yet the IG report indicates that FBI officials repeatedly fail to follow rules intended to make the system more reliable. The potential for false inferences and mistakes is amplified when systems like Guardian share information that is inaccurate or outdated with multiple agencies, some of which doubtlessly have less stringent safeguards than those of the FBI.
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