Proposed FBI Crime Computer System Raises Questions on Accuracy, Privacy -- Report Warns of Potential Risk Data Bank Poses to Civil Liberties Washington Post, February 13, 1989 by Evelyn Richards On a Saturday afternoon just before Christmas last year, U.S. Customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport scored a "hit." Running the typical computer checks of passengers debarking a Trans World Airlines flight from London, they discovered Richard Lawrence Sklar, a fugitive wanted for his part in an Arizona real estate scam. As their guidelines require, Customs confirmed all the particulars about Sklar with officials in Arizona - his birth date, height, weight, eye and hair color matched those of the wanted man. Sklar's capture exemplified perfectly the power of computerized crime fighting. Authorities thousands of miles away from a crime scene can almost instantly identify and nab a wanted person. There was only one problem with the Sklar case: He was the wrong man. The 58-year old passenger - who spent the next two days being strip-searched, herded from one holding pen to another and handcuffed to gang members and other violent offenders - was a political science professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. After being fingered three times in the past dozen years for the financial trickeries of an impostor, Sklar is demanding that the FBI, whose computer scored the latest hit, set its electronic records straight. "Until this person is caught, I am likely to be victimized by another warrant," Sklar said. Nowhere are the benefits and drawbacks of computerization more apparent than at the FBI, which is concluding a six-year study on how to improve its National Crime Information Center, a vast computer network that already links 64,000 law enforcement agencies with data banks of 19 million crime-related records. Although top FBI officials have not signed off on the proposal, the current version would let authorities transmit more detailed information and draw on a vastly expanded array of criminal records. It would enable, for example, storage and electronic transmission of fingerprints, photos, tattoos and other physical attributes that might prevent a mistaken arrest. Though controversial, FBI officials have recommended that it include a data bank containing names of suspects who have not been charged with a crime. The proposed system, however, already has enraged computer scientists and privacy experts who warn in a report to be released today that the system would pose a "potentially serious risk to privacy and civil liberties." The report, prepared for the House subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, also contends that the proposed $40 million overhaul would not correct accuracy problems or assure that records are secure. Mostly because of such criticism, the FBI's revamped proposal for a new system, known as the NCIC 2000 plan, is a skeleton of the capabilities first suggested by law enforcement officials. Many of their ideas have been pared back, either for reasons of practicality or privacy. "Technical possibility should not be the same thing as permissible policy," said Marc Rotenberg, an editor of the report and Washington liaison for Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, a California organization. The need to make that tradeoff - to weigh the benefits of technological advances against the less obvious drawbacks - is becoming more apparent as nationwide computer links become the blood vessels of a high-tech society. Keeping technology under control requires users to double-check the accuracy of the stored data and sometimes resort told-fashioned paper records or face-to-face contact for confirmation. Errors have plagued the NCIC for many years, but an extensive effort to improve record-keeping has significantly reduced the problem, the FBI said. Tapped by federal, state and local agencies, the existing FBI system juggles about 10 inquiries a second from people seeking records on wanted persons, stolen vehicles and property, and criminal histories, among other things. Using the current system, for example, a police officer making a traffic stop can fine out within seconds whether the individual is wanted anywhere else in the United States, or an investigator culling through a list of suspects can peruse past records. At one point, the FBI computer of the future was envisioned as having links to a raft of other data bases, including credit records and those kept by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission. One by one, review panels have scaled back that plan." "There's a lot of sensitive information in those data bases," said Lt. Stanley Michaleski, head of records for the Montgomery County [Maryland] police. "I'm not going to tell you that cops aren't going to misuse the information." The most controversial portion of the planned system would be a major expansion to include information on criminal suspects - whose guilt has not yet been established. The proposed system would include names of persons under investigation in murder, kidnapping or narcotics cases. It would include a so-called "silent hit" feature: An officer in Texas, for instance, would not know that the individual he stopped for speeding was a suspect for murder in Virginia. But when the Virginia investigators flipped on their computer the next morning, it would notify them of the Texas stop. To Michaleski, the proposal sounded like "a great idea. Information is the name of the game." But the "tracking" ability has angered critics. "That [data base] could be enlarged into all sorts of threats - suspected communists, suspected associates of homosexuals. There is no end once you start," said Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), whose subcommittee called for the report on the FBI's system. The FBI's chief of technical services, William Bayse, defends the proposed files, saying they would help catch criminals while containing only carefully screened names. "The rationale is these guys are subjects of investigations, and they met a certain guideline," he said. So controversial is the suspect file that FBI Director William Sessions reportedly may not include it when he publicly presents his plan for a new system. [A case similar to Sklar's was reported previously in RISKS — that of Terry Dean Rogan, who was arrested five times because of outstanding warrants caused by someone else masquerading as him. He finally settled for $50,000 in damages. PGN]
A few days ago, someone forged a message to rec.music.misc. The "From:" address corresponded to that of a gateway for the Apollo mailing list. A couple of people, not recognizing that the fake name corresponded to a mailing list, sent their replies in `privately' instead of to rec.music.misc, with the result that their replies were broadcast whereever the Apollo list and comp.sys.apollo reaches. They were, it seems, subsequently `flamed' for their unintential mis-mailing. A subsequent note from someone, exposing the message as a forgery, states > With SMTP and/or NNTP, the forgery could come from anywhere, not > necessarily berkeley or ucsf. Perhaps someone else can comment on this: can we trust -any- of our (non-encrypted) network mail to be from the claimed author? How about the other way around: how much danger is there that someone can spoof mail in order to receive messages destined for someone else? Walter Roberson <Walter_Roberson@Carleton.CA> (if you can believe that...) References: <email@example.com.EDU> (the forged message) <firstname.lastname@example.org> (the exposure, written by george%hyper.lap.upenn.edu%netnews.upenn.edu%eecae%mailrus.uucp@ ames.arc.nasa.gov (George "Sir Lleb" Zipperlen) ) [The simple answer is "no". Furthermore, encrypting the networks does not help very much if the operating systems are vulnerable to attack. Previous spoofs include "Chernenko at Moskvax" (see ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes 9 4, July 1984, and last year's "Spafford" hoax. PGN]
My useless code maintenance story concerns a job I applied for once, as a contracted programmer, specifically to maintain one Cobol program. It was billed as a 20-hour per week job, and it's maintenance had kept a Stanford Ph.D. programmer/statistician busy for that amount of time, for some months. (None of this relates to work done at or for Stanford.) The job was to run the program against fresh data a couple of times a week, and keep the record formats (which rarely changed) up to date. As soon as I reviewed the program, having taken the well-paid job, I discovered that all it did was read-in a file a record at a time, and rewrite some fields from each each record it read-in, without any data change or sorting whatsoever. The second set of records was then read by a statistical program — which could have read-in the original records directly, simply ignoring the un-needed fields! I contemplated how easy the job was, but recommended scrapping the Cobol program, which not even said Ph.D. had realized was utterly purposeless. This was done - and so I put myself out of work. I wonder how many programmers do similarly unproductive work because their managers don't realize what is and isn't really being accomplished? Sometimes immediate management knows the score, but instructs one to take more time than needed to make a change. In one employment I was told to take at least two weeks to change the title line in a report, to impress upon senior management how tricky it was and how overloaded we all were.
In RISKS 8.26 blinn%dr.DEC@decwrl.dec.com, Dr. Thomas P. Blinn writes: >In RISKS-FORUM Digest Volume 8 : Issue 24, it is asserted by Barry Redmond that <>If someone makes a mistake on one engine at any of these times, there is a <>high probability that they will make the same mistake on the other engine(s). >That may be true, but it may not be true, because the same person may not >be working on all the engines. I would agree that an incompetent mechanic >working on all the engines is likely to make the same mistakes on all of >them, but the reality of aircraft engine repair is different. There are several well known cases where all engines on a multi-engine aircraft failed (or were in the process of failing) due to the same maintenance error. Sometimes it's the result of a single person's work, and in other cases it's the result of systematic error by a group. The reality is that such errors and failures do occur. >The probabilities of failure are not independent because if one engine fails it >immediately increases the probability of another failing. <>This is a very interesting assertion. It seems to be saying that there is a <>causal relationship between a first engine failure and the likelihood of a <>second. ... , but this doesn't mean that the probability of failure of the <>other engines has changed in any way. ... There is such a causal reationship. When one engine fails, the remaining engine(s) may have to be operated at increased power levels and shoulder additional tasks. This raises the stress on them, and gives us an a priori knowledge of increased probabilty of failure. It may be necessary to have a thorough grounding in probability theory and statistics, but it is also necessary to have knowledge of the specifics of real world operations. Either without the other sets us up to allow problems to escape detection and analysis.
NOTE: a longer version of this tirade will soon appear on USENET's rec.aviation... I'll mail a copy to anyone without usenet access. Jordan Brown wrote: >727 engines (3/airplane) are wimpy compared to DC-9 engines (2/airplane). >BAe-146 engines (4/airplane) are *really* wimpy. (This assumes that >727s are approximately the same size as DC-9s. Bae-146's are smaller.) The 727 and DC-9 engines are the same, derivatives based on the Pratt & Whitney JT8D. What is significant, in the context of this discussion, is how the engine thrust relates to the airplane weight. Here are a few thrust-to-weight ratios, assuming various weights and engine-remaining situations: 727-200,000 lbs (max) 727-200, 140,000 lbs DC-9-30,140,000 lbs (max) 3 4:1 3:1 2 6:1 5:1 4:1 1 13:1 9:1 9:1 One can change the performance of an airplane by losing weight; to lose weight, fuel is dumped. The 727 can lose some 60,000 lbs of fuel. The one-engine case with no fuel is a performance increase of some 30% over the same thrust at max.weight. To give an example of the significance of all this, recently a fully-loaded Continental 747, enroute to New York, attempted to take off from Gatwick, heading north. It had an engine fire and shutdown at takeoff. The pilot was just barely able to hold altitude after takeoff (with three engines), at 200- 300 feet, with the stick shaker and stall warnings active. The airplane went behind some trees; the controller called a crash after losing radar and visual contact. The plane dumped a massive amount of fuel, managed to gain altitude (after several minutes), and returned to the field. The moral here, again, is that from the mundane perspective of keeping the airplane in the air, it's not how many engines you have, but how much you weigh. What is far more important for trans-oceanic operations is how likely it is to lose some or all of your engines, and how likely it would be to get to an airfield once you do. Considering the frequency with which total (or near-total) freakish engine failures have occurred the last few years (even though the engines themselves are more reliable than in the past), this isn't really as trivial or as "safe" as the numbers might have us believe. >Airplanes are required to be >able to maintain such-and-such a level of performance with one engine out. The most important situation normally considered being takeoff. I doubt a 727 could take off with two engines out; it wouldn't have the time necessary to dump, or the thrust necessary to maintain airspeed. As the above 747 example shows, even the worst-case performance figures can be misleading. At the end of the flight, that same 747 would be able to perform with only one engine operating (as a recent United Airlines emergency landing on a flight to Tokyo showed). >I don't believe a 727 can fly on one engine. It must have two. It can fly on one engine. And even if it couldn't fly on one engine, as another poster pointed out, having *any* thrust means the difference between a steep glide and a long glide. According to the 727 patterns manual, a one- engine ILS approach is made by assuming a decision height of some 600 feet, with an airspeed in the 160-170 kt range. Best climb speed, for the go- around, is 200 kts (190 knots with two degrees of flaps). There's an implicit assumption in the training manual that between 600 feet and ground level, they will be able to accelerate--and hold--200 kts. >A three-engine airplane has a higher probability of having a failure in >the first place, and when it does have a failure it then has two points >of failure, EITHER of which will cause an accident. The 727 has three engines because, more than any other factor, Boeing perceived a need to trade off airline requirements at the time the plane was constructed. United Airlines wanted a four-engine airplane, Eastern wanted two. So they compromised, and agreed on three. I suspect a similar history with the Tristar and DC-10: four is too many, two is too few. Three is nice and "safe." >Going from one engine to two adds redundancy. Going from two to three, >with two required, REDUCES redundancy. Perhaps we should look up the meaning of "redundancy." Three engines provide three thrust sources, three generators, three pneumatics sources, and (on the 727) two hydraulic sources. I can't imagine how that is "bad," since (apart from fuel starvation, mismanagement, and particle ingestion) they really don't have a common failure mode. There are more parts to fail, but the issue here is whether more engines will make it more likely for everything to go wrong in a catastrophic manner, which years of experience has shown to be fallacious. Robert Dorsett
First, there seems to be some disagreement on the subject. Does anyone have any information on the capability of currently popular 3-engine commercial aircraft (DC10, L1011, B727) to maintain level flight with only one functioning engine? Second, to expand upon the comments of Dr. Blinn, my recollection of statistics is as follows: Each engine has its own (unknown) probability of failure during any time interval. This probability is a function of many known and unknown factors (history, current aircraft state, fuel, maintainence, etc.). Initially, we have an ESTIMATE of this probability which is the same for all engines: some sort of historical average or other statistic. The failure of one engine on an aircraft gives additional information regarding those factors which are common, and thus allows us to revise our estimate of the probabilities of another failure on the same aircraft in the near future. Normally, a statistician would say that the probability of failure hasn't changed, just our estimate. There is an exception to this statement. It is possible that the failure of the first engine is itself a factor in the failure of the second, for example, by increaseing the load that engine is run under, or stress on the aircraft from unequal thrust. I think the most misunderstood aspect of statistics is that probability distributions for real world phenomena are rarely known, only estimated. The march of time gives us new information to refine our estimates. Dan Graifer The usual disclaimers.... Daniel A. Graifer, Franklin Capital Investments, 7900 Westpark Drive, Suite A130, McLean, VA 22102 (703)821-3244
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