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DHS: Searching for Non-Obvious Relationships

The government has mounds of information in multiple databases residing in law enforcement and security or counterterrorism agencies from around the country. Often, the data is organized and formatted differently. Over the last couple of years efforts to create data fusion centers, and more recently, central location data brokerages, have been established to help make sense of the information from these many disparate sources, and make the data useful to the myriad users from the federal level down to the local municipal level. While there is some disagreement over the “best” method to accomplish the goal of seamless integration of information exchange, the need for this is not disputed.

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced a program, the ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection system (otherwise known as ICEPIC), to help identify illegal aliens, criminals or terrorists by identifying “non-obvious relationships.” DHS hopes that ICEPIC, a new analytic tool for immigration enforcement and counter-terrorism will overcome the problems of the current system that is cumbersome, time-consuming and prone to errors.

"ICEPIC allows ICE law enforcement agents and analysts to look for non-obvious relationship patterns among individuals and organizations that are indicative of violations of the customs and immigration laws that are enforced by DHS agencies, as well as possible terrorist threats and plots."

The Privacy Impact Assessment for ICEPIC can be read here.

With the objective of enabling law enforcement and security agencies to more efficiently research, collate, organize, validate, and analyze the information contained in numerous existing data bases, ICEPIC will combine and automate data analysis from existing sources including:

● the National Security Entry Exit Registration System or NSEERS (keeps track "special interest aliens"

● the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

● the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology or US-VISIT program (facial photos and fingerprints of foreign travelers entering/exiting the United States)

ICEPIC will employ "link analysis tools" to look for what it calls "non-obvious relationship patterns" that could help the department identify illegal aliens, criminals or terrorists to result in more timely leads in law enforcement and counterterrorism.

"ICEPIC allows ICE law enforcement agents and analysts to look for non-obvious relationship patterns among individuals and organizations that are indicative of violations of the customs and immigration laws that are enforced by DHS agencies, as well as possible terrorist threats and plots," explained a Federal Register notice the department released today.

The new ICEPIC system of records will become effective on February 29, 2008. DHS envisions granting a series of "exemptions" that would enable the ICEPIC program to withhold certain personal data, even when requested under the Privacy Act.

Almost certainly there will be objections and claims that a program like ICEPIC will in some way expose personal information of innocent citizens to scrutiny. The debate over security versus privacy will probably be one that continues for many years. However, much in the same way that other programs like the Human ID at a Distance Program (a DARPA effort to advance the state of the art of identification at a distance by combining different technologies, including facial recognition), or Automatic Gait Recognition, or any other form of biometrics (essentially, systems that identify individuals through automated measurements of a person’s unique characteristics), a program like ICEPIC will certainly enhance our abilities to preemptively “persons of interest” earlier. I’m pretty sure that there will be objections to the DHS taking this direction, just as there will likely be those who claim that there are “better” ways to accomplish the same end result.

While there is no publicly announced threat for today’s Super Bowl has been designated as a level one security event that brings the federal agencies into the picture to augment the local police and security forces.

There’s also a no fly zone, a secure perimeter, and spectators should expect to be vetted before getting through. And there’s a list of prohibited items ranging from beach balls to weapons. Fans can also expect scads of security cameras and aircraft flying above surveying the area, while trained dogs will be on the lookout for explosives.

While I have no specific information, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that there is a “face in the crowd” technology deployed at the University of Phoenix Stadium as well. Enhanced security is a way of life since September 11th, and as time passes, these measures are being expanded. The trade-off between security and liberty will continue to be debated. Of course, in a quote attributed to the musician Neil Young, "Benjamin Franklin said that anyone who gives up essential liberties to preserve freedom is a fool, "but maybe he didn't conceive of nuclear warfare and dirty bombs."

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