Data security and privacy are not big topical interests of mine. Anything Europeans are obsessive about can’t be all that important. Throw in the ACLU, that predictable bizarro-world weathervane of right and wrong, and I’m usually pretty sure “what to think.” But part of this story about the announcement that LexisNexis databases were compromised far more than had been previously believed caught my eye. It was this:
Data-collection services provided by Seisint, based in Boca Raton, Florida, allow police and financial firms to sift through vast amounts of personal information — from the color of someone’s eyes to the type of car they drive.
One Seisint database called the Matrix, which allows state law enforcers to quickly zero in on criminal suspects, has come under criticism from civil-liberties groups.
Lexis bought Seisint last summer for three-quarters of a billion dollars. The ACLU was screaming about this “Matrix” database for a while now, and while most of their complaints did not move me, it appears that they were right on the nose about the security vulnerability of the data.
Unlike most bloggers (it seems), I am not a libertarian, nor even the biggest “civil libertarian.” I am skeptical of conspiracy theories and the like. And most private data, the stuff that the privacy fetishists obsess about, is, as one great man said (about something completely else), “dull, boring and omnipresent” and pretty much worthless — a point I make to the typical would-be Internet defamation or privacy plaintiff in that weekly phone call we get around here.
But I will say this: If government agencies are going to use their presumptive police power to collect data, however legitimately, they are — regardless of whether they outsource the task or not — obligated to insure that this information is retained securely. Even a law-and-order, Burkean conservative can recognize that duty, a duty of competence which is after all a premise of civil government … right after ordered liberty and somewhere above free ham hocks.
It looks like the State of Florida (the increasingly incompetent-looking State of Florida), which has taken a lead role in the Matrix database project, along with LexisNexis, has a lot of explaining to do. Sorry, Mr. Olson, but I suspect that some of them there trial lawyers will have some hand in making them do it.