The Justice Department will expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation's national computer system to include information about persons suspected of committing white-collar crimes, Associate Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen told a House subcommittee yesterday.
Currently, police use the system -- the National Crime Information Center -- to determine if an individual has been named in an arrest warrant elsewhere. When the system is expanded, more than 60,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies will be able to enter the names of persons under investigation for serious white-collar crimes. They need not have been charged.
Law enforcement agencies that enter the name of the same person or crime scheme will be notified so they can exchange information.
"The department is determined to develop a mechanism whereby various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies examining a series of offenses can at least learn quickly of the existence of parallel investigations," Jensen said.
But Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, said he was troubled by the department's decision to include the names of persons who have not been charged with any crime.
"It's an immense change you're contemplating," Edwards said. "You could even put information about communists and homosexuals in the computer, you really could."
Edwards suggested that the Justice Department postpone the expansion for at least two years. By then, FBI Assistant Director William A. Bayse said, the bureau should have the results of a $2 million study of how the computer should be improved and expanded through the year 2000.
But both Jensen and FBI officials said they did not want to wait that long.
After the hearing, Edwards said his subcommittee may try to include language in the FBI's budget appropriation that would force it to wait.
Jensen said it was important to include the information on white-collar crime because "just as modern technology can be used to carry out criminal schemes employing fraud, stealth and cover-up, it can be used to detect, apprehend and successfully prosecute criminals among us."
FBI officials said the computer would not be used to store names of associates of white-collar crime suspects, as had been proposed originally, unless law enforcement agencies were investigating the associates.