April 14, 2007
Big Governor is watching you

Here's the story, as first reported.

Piece by piece, Gov. Rick Perry's homeland security office is gathering massive amounts of information about Texas residents and merging it to create the most exhaustive centralized database in state history. Warehoused far from Texas on servers housed at a private company in Louisville, Kentucky, the Texas Data Exchange--TDEx to those in the loop--is designed to be an all-encompassing intelligence database. It is supposed to help catch criminals, ferret out terrorist cells, and allow disparate law enforcement agencies to share information. More than $3.6 million has been spent on the project so far, and it already has tens of millions of records. At least 7,000 users are presently allowed access to this information, and tens of thousands more are anticipated.

What is most striking, and disturbing, about the database is that it is not being run by the state's highest law enforcement agency--the Texas Department of Public Safety. Instead, control of TDEx, and the power to decide who can use it, resides in the governor's office.

That gives Perry, his staff, future governors, and their staffs potential access to a trove of sensitive data on everything from ongoing criminal investigations to police incident reports and even traffic stops. In their zeal to assemble TDEx, Perry and his homeland security director, Steve McCraw, have plunged ahead with minimal oversight from law enforcement agencies, and even DPS is skittish about the direction the project has taken.

Once again, read the whole thing. Have I mentioned lately what a kickass year the Observer has had so far? It's scary to think what it'd be like around here without them.

The mainstream media caught up today. The question you need to ask yourself is not whether or not such a database might have value as a crimefighting tool - no doubt it does - but whether it should be managed by the Governor's office or by an actual law enforcement agency such as the DPS. Frankly, the fact the the Governor's office is trying to claim that they're not really in charge when they are is pretty troubling in and of itself. From the Morning News:

Lawmakers said Friday that they are concerned about a civilian in a political office having control over so much sensitive information on individuals.

Several said they'll seek to move control of the database from the governor's office, and others want to fold the Division of Homeland Security into the Department of Public Safety.

In response, the governor's office said the program has been based in and operated by the DPS - the state's premier law-enforcement agency. Mr. McCraw gave a December 2005 letter to key lawmakers that states that the DPS was officially designated as the project manager in charge of information and its security.

But in testimony before the House State Affairs Committee on Friday, the director of DPS told legislators that the project is run by Mr. McCraw.

"For a very short time - a week or a month - DPS might have been kinda in charge of that project. It was given back to Mr. McCraw and the governor's office at their request," Col. Tommy Davis said.

And from the Statesman:

At the outset of the hearing, House State Affairs Committee Chairman David Swinford, R-Dumas, sought to allay concerns about oversight, producing a December 2005 letter from the governor's office that designated the Department of Public Safety as the project manager.

But Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, later distributed a March 2007 letter from a state DPS attorney that said the law enforcement agency is "only a participant" in the data sharing network.

"The Texas Office of Homeland Security in the Office of the Governor administers the TDEx network," the letter said.

DPS Director Col. Tom Davis later testified that the agency gave up control of the database at the request of the homeland security office.

"It was their program," Davis said in response to a question from Farrar. "I believe (McCraw) felt he could do the job and let DPS do law enforcement work."

Why is it such a bad idea to have the Governor's office run this? For one thing, because they don't play well with others.

In recent testimony, a DPS Narcotics division commander revealed that Governor Perry's much-ballyhooed Operations Linebacker/Rio Grande/Wrangler did not coordinate or share information with DPS Narcotics, do not participate in anti-drug agreements with Mexican law enforcement, and don't utilize federal "deconfliction" centers to make sure their efforts didn't harm other investigations. Asked about eleven new "joint operational intelligence centers" the Governor says are managing Texas' border surge, DPS Narcotics says they "didn't have anything to do" with them, even though DPS is the state's primary drug enforcement agency.

So far, unfortunately, only Democrats seem to be concerned about this, at least going by public statements. Rep. Richard Raymond received permission to introduce HB4108 on Thursday to make DPS the only agency that can operate a database like TDEx. Republicans used to get fired up about this sort of thing; maybe they will again. It's always a good idea to ask yourself how you'd feel if it was the other guy who was doing this sort of thing. More from Grits, In the Pink, Peggy Fikac, Vince, Somervell County Salon, and Musings.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 14, 2007 to Show Business for Ugly People

A similar uneasy relationship existed between the Brownshirts and the SS

Posted by: Charles Hixon on April 14, 2007 10:07 PM


Is this legal?? I certainly don't like the Repugs having my "personal" information to do with what they want.

thanks for all you do,
Patty Pinkley

Posted by: Patty Pinkley on April 15, 2007 10:43 PM

Whether legal or not, they have hidden, lied and not used this data for best purposes...that tells you everything you need to know right there.

In the hands of a partisan who doesn't play well with others....

Posted by: Prove Our Democracy with Paper Ballots on April 16, 2007 12:25 PM

I just ran across your blog -- link @ Crooks & Liars. Iam prone to focus my attention on international and national news whereby I tend to ignore local and state news, however, after reading quite a bit on your site I plan on being a regular visitor. Your blog is informative and intelligent.

I do not like the idea of Perry having sole access to our personal information for several reasons:

* lack of security provisions
* lack of oversight
* too open to abuse

How do we know what capacity our personal information is being used?

"Trust us" is not adequate, especially after Perry misrepresented this to Texans, if I understand the issue correctly.

And why is he using an outfit in Ky. to monitor our personal information?

What connections exist between TDEx and Perry?

Taking into consideration the absence of personal security features, without the means to correct mistakes, and lack of oversight do the aforementioned outweigh crime fighting benefits? Notwithstanding especially when Perry fails to share information, anyhow.

Abuse is too tempting and too easy. The government has been taking too much liberty at our expense. For instance, the recent FBI's mishandling of NIEs.

Hayden wants to expand federal government powers that would put more discretionary control in the hands of the government with even less oversight by the judicial branch.

This country is too Orwellian for comfort.

Posted by: serena1313 on April 16, 2007 10:04 PM