Monday, February 28, 2011

qOtd: TALON database

qOtd: Are you in favour of the new TALON database for Law Officers in Alberta?

Nation, many of you have by now heard of the new "The Alberta Law Officers' Network", or TALON database.

In this database, police and peace officers will have access not only to your record of convictions, but also charges that were dropped, investigations you were a subject of, 9-1-1 calls associated with you - pretty much a full spread of everything the legal community knows, or suspects, about you.

The unfortunate quote that was attributed to Ayaaz Janmohamed, the executive director of the IT branch in the provincial Solicitor General's office, is "The concept is that we will have a single source of the truth."

Civil rights leaders, not to mention philosophy majors across the province, cringed at the quote. As did Ayaaz, I'm sure, after the fact.

The Edmonton Journal story includes a few points that have since been cleared up. Officers will, in fact, need to give a reason for accessing the information. And the privacy assessment will, as recently announced, be made public.


I understand where the critics are coming from. I do. At some point, though, don't we have to give the benefit of the doubt to these officers that they will, more likely than not, use the information to help them do their jobs - keeping us safe? I mean, we DO give them hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of training and equipment, and firearms.

I'm not saying we give them carte blanche to access any information they want. This isn't NCIS, where McGee can check my cell phone records in real time, without even thinking the word "warrant". But if a cop pulls over a car for speeding in Calgary and a run of the license plate shows it's registered to someone who was identified by cops in Lethbridge 2 hours ago as a possible abductor in a domestic disturbance called into 9-1-1 by the neighbours - isn't that good information for the Calgary cop to have before he scribbles a ticket and sends the guy on his way without, say, checking the trunk?

The issue that most clearly paints the picture for me about the necessity of this kind of a system - this KIND of system, not necessarily THIS system - is the story that came to light on Saturday regarding the alleged abduction of a young girl in Calgary by convicted sex offender John Francis Dionne. Among the MANY appalling aspects of this story is the one where Dionne - with his alleged victim in the front seat - was stopped and issued a speeding ticket by an RCMP member, and then sent on his way. In 2003, Dionne was convicted for sexual assault using a weapon and kidnapping with intent to confine. The RCMP deemed him a "high risk to re-offend". And he was issued a ticket, and drove away with a 10 year-old girl in the front seat.

Would TALON have made a difference in this case? It's hard to say - the devil is, as always, in the details. What information would come up on the screen? What information would the dispatcher pass along to a cop about someone during a routine traffic stop?

I know our system of justice is designed to let 100 guilty men go free rather than imprison one innocent man. And I know that legislation and enforcement measures approved from a place of fear or anger are dangerous.

But really...  TALON doesn't seem like a bad idea to me. I trust our cops to get it right. And if they don't, I trust our judges to hold them to account.

Do I want your ex-wife to have access to all your TALON details during a custody hearing, or divorce proceeding? No. Do I want your political opponents to have access to the case notes from an investigation in 1993 where you were included on a list of possible narcotics distributors? No.

Do I want pieces of garbage like John Francis Dionne looked at a little closer during routine traffic stops? As the uncle of an 8 year-old girl, you bet I do.

That's MY take...  what's yours?


Anonymous said...

Hey Joey...I work with the Minister of Sol Gen so maybe a couple of things to add. One of the things everybody has to be aware of is that Police Officers currently collect the type of information already. They all have their own databases that they can all access within their existing force. The API3 (or TALON) gives the ability for all police jurisdictions to share information...not collect any different TYPE of information that is currently collected (same, not different - so no children fingerprints as was alleged in the House).

And when talking about the sharing of information, when the Minister was shuffled out of the Whip's position and into Sol Gen, we both were shocked that police from the different areas of the province were NOT doing this. We figured they already were.

An interesting side note: we were at a police dinner in Southern Alberta and three officers from three different jurisdictions were talking about a murder case with each other they each were EACH investigating. What blew my mind was when the one said, "well I will get the file and drive it down to the detachment on Monday to see if what you are investigating is the same thing we are..."

Really!?! That is what the system is trying to correct. Must correct. Officers, Police Officers (not private security etc), need to have that ability to share easily with each other. The Lethbridge/Calgary example you give is very appropriate and very true but it is much bigger than that...right now if somebody commits a murder in Edmonton or Calgary and drops the victim outside the city it may be a long time before each jurisdiction knows that. It is an officer and public safety issue in my mind.

As well, the database is governed by FOIP so your ex-wife or your political opponents can't just access this stuff. It has the same types of controls (checks and balances, justifications) that all police databases have now. So this fear that now my info is available to everybody...not isn't the case right now and this database is no different.

Finally, the edm journal article. I'm disappointed with that article because it was made clear to them that the Privacy Impact Assessment was going to be made public however we have to contemplate direction from the Privacy Commissioner. For instance, it's probably best to withhold technical details of the database code and how it operates because you know, that could compromise security of the system (crude example but fair). However, the Gov't does plan to release the details of who has access, how it is accessed, jurisdictional control, etc. For some reason the Journal took that to mean we weren't going to make it public. Simply not true. It will be public to a point. We aren't going to tell you who has keys to the database room...which I hope makes some common sense to everybody.

So there is some info...not sure if I make it any better or worse...

Thanks Joey!


Enlightened Savage said...

Mike: Thanks for your points! I'm sure some of the other readers may have questions for you, as you're much more familiar with the system than I - please be sure to check back! :)

Anonymous said...

Yes you bet. Always keep an eye on it.

Ward2Guy said...

I'm afraid C-students would not use this information properly, especially when it comes to "charges that were dropped." Doesn't sound like a dropped charge anymore, does it?

Anonymous said...

Hey most police databases currently have a "fingerprint" that tracks who went in and why. The Privacy Impact Assessment will make the rules around that more clear as we move through and develop that, but it is something that is being looked at as to how to properly track those who access.

Hope that helps.