Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How Do You Know Who's Who?

Today's edition of the Long Island daily newspaper Newsday carried the details of a tragic story, in which a police officer – who had pulled a suspected drunk driver over to the side of the road – was critically injured when his car was plowed into by another suspected drunk driver – who didn't even have a valid New York State driver's license.
The man who hit the police car, 27-year-old Rahiem Griffin of Shirley, N.Y., was driving with a suspended New York State license, but had a license issued from the state of New Jersey -- which, coincidentally, was suspended in March of this year for violations relating to an unpaid parking ticket. New York authorities say Griffin "beat the system" by obtaining that license, which they say never should have been issued because New York and New Jersey have a reciprocal arrangement: If your license is suspended in one state, you won't get a license in the other.
So, how did Griffin get his New Jersey license? Police and motor vehicle officials say when Griffin applied for the New Jersey license, he simply dropped a middle initial. A search of state motor vehicle records did not find any problems with Rahiem Griffin – no middle initial -- and so the license was issued. New Jersey officials also use the National Driver Register, a federal database of drivers with suspended and/or revoked licenses, and again, no record of Rahiem Griffin was found.
In this day and age, it's baffling to me how our databases still are not fully integrated, and able to understand – or even infer, or flag – that Rahiem A. Griffin and Rahiem Griffin might be the same person.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Stef Damianakis, CEO of a company called Netrics, which has created a data-matching engine that models the human concept of similarity. Thus, when Thomas Smith is entered into a database in New York, and Tom B. Smythe in entered into a database in New Jersey, the engine will return them together, enabling further scrutiny by the person who made the query.
The issue is not simply about drunk driving. False, or inexact, identifications result in guns being sold to people with criminal histories, and in foreign criminals getting passports to perform acts of global terror, to mention but two frightening scenarios.
Research and advances in the way information is stored, recalled, sorted and logically connected should be among the highest priorities for governments around the world, if they're sincere in their efforts to protect and defend their citizens.
-- David Rubinstein

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