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.
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.
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."
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.