Tom Hays reports:
It’s billed by the FBI as “the lifeline of law enforcement” — a federal database used to catch criminals, recover stolen property and even identify terrorism suspects.
But authorities say Edwin Vargas logged onto the restricted system and ran names for reasons that had nothing to do with his duties as a New York Police Department detective. Instead, he was accused in May of looking up personal information on two fellow officers without their knowledge.
The allegation against Vargas is one of a batch of corruption cases in recent years against NYPD officers accused of abusing the FBI-operated National Crime Information Center database to cyber snoop on co-workers, tip off drug dealers, stage robberies and — most notoriously — scheme to abduct and eat women.
The NCIC database serves 90,000 agencies and gets 9 million entries a day by users seeking information on stolen guns and cars, fugitives, sex offenders, orders of protection and other subjects, according to an FBI website.
Read more of this Associated Press story.
Of course, this is not really anything new. We’ve been reading too many cases of law enforcement personnel exceeding authorized access to databases in Florida, Minnesota, and elsewhere in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. Some of these cases were covered on this blog, while others were covered on the companion blog, DataBreaches.net. In some cases, the misuse is for snooping. In other cases, it’s for tax refund fraud schemes, or, as in this case, for tipping off law enforcement.
But as @emptywheel comments on Twitter this morning, how these crimes are charged may depend on who you are:
Apparently they don’t charge illegal use of NCIC database as CFAA. http://t.co/G0kIxrWsNx 1 yr if a cop does it. 40 if Aaron Swartz does it
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) July 8, 2013
CORRECTION: Mark Eckenwiler points out that the indictment of Gilberto Valle, also discussed in the AP story, included a count involving the CFAA. There was also one count of hacking charged in Edwin Vargas’ case. But @emptywheel’s question is still valid, I think: when police officers are charged under CFAA, do we see the same kinds of “overcharging” as alleged in the Aaron Swartz case or other cases?