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US Monitoring Database Reaches Limit, Quits Tracking Felons and Parolees 270

Posted by timothy
from the paid-by-the-row dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Thousands of US sex offenders, prisoners on parole and other convicts were left unmonitored after an electronic tagging system shut down because of data overload. BI Incorporated, which runs the system, reached its data threshold — more than two billion records — on Tuesday. This left authorities across 49 states unaware of offenders' movement for about 12 hours." As the astonished submitter asks, "2 billion records?"
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US Monitoring Database Reaches Limit, Quits Tracking Felons and Parolees

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  • by mykos (1627575) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @04:02AM (#33844096)
    "According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): "In 2008, over 7.3 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year-end — 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults."

    This doesn't make me feel safe.
  • by GMThomas (1115405) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @04:35AM (#33844146) Homepage
    Right? You shouldn't feel safe. Not because of the "criminals" but because of the reason why there are so many "criminals." Have a joint on you? You're a criminal. Do you know how many people are in jail because of simple drug-related offenses? Be afraid. http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/factsht/crime/index.html [whitehousedrugpolicy.gov] Look at that. 25% of federal inmates are in there for drug possession. I bet you a good amount of these people wouldn't rob you at gunpoint. Good luck, America!
  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @05:25AM (#33844234)
    I think you really need to read a primer on data mining. The attitude you describe is all too common and brings pain in its wake. If you find you want more than 65000 rows in a spreadsheet, your problem is almost certainly inappropriate for a spreadsheet solution. Even Access is vastly better, and if you (a) don't have even basic data mining and (b) the data is going out to PHBs, Filemaker is your friend.

    Also, chances are, if you think any typical business data set is best represented by a spreadsheet, you are probably not qualified to make the call.

  • Re:2 billion... (Score:5, Informative)

    by bertok (226922) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @05:26AM (#33844238)

    it just stopped once it hit that limit rather than failing over to a backup process.

    "just over 2 billion" is almost certainly 2^31 (2 147 483 648), or the maximum number representable by a signed 32-bit integer. People usually think of "over 4 billion" (2^32) as the integer limit, but that's for unsigned integers only, which are rarely used, especially in databases. I'm willing to bet that they used an "int" as a primary key in one of their tables, and simply overflowed the maximum possible value.

    This kind of bug has impacted lots of systems in the past. If it happens, there's no "fail over" that could possibly save the system. The replica would have the same data, and hence the same issue, and would have failed as well. The usual fix is to extend the key type to 64-bits or longer (e.g.: GUIDs), but for a 2 billion row table, that's going to take hours at best, probably days.

    Most database systems do not provide a warning when the keys start to approach large values, so it's easy to miss.

  • by Grygus (1143095) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @05:35AM (#33844248)
    You're right. From the press release: '“Importantly, the monitoring system continued to operate and gather information, but transmissions were delayed until the system was restored. Offender activity logged while the server was being worked on was effectively processed at 7:25 p.m. MT when the system was restored. Alerts that may have occurred during this period were transmitted to our customers at that time."'
  • by Chris Snook (872473) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @05:46AM (#33844284)

    Anyone remember when Slashdot hit 16,777,215 comments, and overflowed MEDIUMINT? The ALTER TABLE statement that fixed it took hours to run. I shudder to think how long it'll take to fix this, even with the problem diagnosed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @06:38AM (#33844386)

    sorry, but Microsoft SQL Server doesn't support unsigned integers.

  • by jfengel (409917) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @06:58AM (#33844432) Homepage Journal

    Not that I'm disagreeing with your point, but I think you're misreading that page. That 25% figure is for people who were high at the time of the offense. (I assume you're looking at table 2).

  • Re:Now.. (Score:4, Informative)

    by autocracy (192714) <slashdot2007.storyinmemo@com> on Saturday October 09, 2010 @07:46AM (#33844576) Homepage

    Yeah, we've all seen that happen before [slashdot.org].

  • Re:Now.. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @09:46AM (#33845140)

    Posting anonymously for obvious reasons.

    I was on electronic monitoring for the US BOP (bureau of prisons) through BI incorporated for about 3 years. I had to pay my own monthly bill for monitoring services, which went to BI incorporated in Colorado somewhere.

    How the system works is like this: Your federal probation officer comes to your house and installs a box that looks kind of like a cable TV box. It connects to your telephone line (you must have a land line phone to be on electronic monitoring) on one end and also plugs into power. The box is pretty heavy because it has some rechargeable batteries in it so it can operate for some time if the power goes out.

    You get an ankle bracelet installed that is pretty permanent - rubber band with a steel core around your ankle, and a pager-like device attached to it. Now, the device is pretty simple. Whenever you go out of range (about 100-200 ft.) of the box, it dials one of BI's modems and reports that you left. Whenever you come back in range of the box, it dials out and reports that you arrived home. If you disconnect it from power, or the power goes out, it also dials in and reports the power outage (you are never supposed to unplug it, but sometimes power outages happen). When the power comes back on, it dials in and reports the power is back online. Even if you never leave your house at all that day, it still dials in once a day to report it's status.

    The purpose of this EM (electronic monitoring) system is to allow people to be on home confinement and still leave the house to go to work, get groceries, etc, but not be out at all hours of the night committing crimes.

    I can easily see how 2 billion records are in the database. There are not 2 billion criminals. These are just 2 billion date/timestamp entries saying prisoner #X left their house, prisoner #X returned, etc.

    I found the entire 36 month or so experience pretty surreal. The most difficult thing was wearing baggy pants to hide the ankle bracelet at work. For obvious reasons I didn't want to advertise to the world that I was a federal prisoner. It also says a lot about a society and judicial system where there are so many prisoners that they need to outsource the imprisonment of non-violent offenders to a corporation. But who am I to complain? I'm just a felon who committed a victim-less drug crime.

  • by billatq (544019) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @09:52AM (#33845192)
    The limit has been raised to about a million for a few versions now: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/excel-specifications-and-limits-HP010073849.aspx [microsoft.com]
  • Re:2 billion... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @09:55AM (#33845202)

    Posting anonymously for obvious reasons.

    I was on electronic monitoring for the US BOP (bureau of prisons) through BI incorporated for about 3 years. I had to pay my own monthly bill for monitoring services, which went to BI incorporated in Colorado somewhere.

    How the system works is like this: Your federal probation officer comes to your house and installs a box that looks kind of like a cable TV box. It connects to your telephone line (you must have a land line phone to be on electronic monitoring) on one end and also plugs into power. The box is pretty heavy because it has some rechargeable batteries in it so it can operate for some time if the power goes out.

    You get an ankle bracelet installed that is pretty permanent - rubber band with a steel core around your ankle, and a pager-like device attached to it. Now, the device is pretty simple. Whenever you go out of range (about 100-200 ft.) of the box, it dials one of BI's modems and reports that you left. Whenever you come back in range of the box, it dials out and reports that you arrived home. If you disconnect it from power, or the power goes out, it also dials in and reports the power outage (you are never supposed to unplug it, but sometimes power outages happen). When the power comes back on, it dials in and reports the power is back online. Even if you never leave your house at all that day, it still dials in once a day to report it's status.

    The purpose of this EM (electronic monitoring) system is to allow people to be on home confinement and still leave the house to go to work, get groceries, etc, but not be out at all hours of the night committing crimes.

    I can easily see how 2 billion records are in the database. There are not 2 billion criminals. These are just 2 billion date/timestamp entries saying prisoner #X left their house, prisoner #X returned, etc.

    I found the entire 36 month or so experience pretty surreal. The most difficult thing was wearing baggy pants to hide the ankle bracelet at work. For obvious reasons I didn't want to advertise to the world that I was a federal prisoner. It also says a lot about a society and judicial system where there are so many prisoners that they need to outsource the imprisonment of non-violent offenders to a corporation. But who am I to complain? I'm just a felon who committed a victim-less drug crime.

    Another thing to mention is that what you see on TV or in the movies is pretty false. These are not GPS enabled tracking devices that can pinpoint your location on a map so they can hunt you down anywhere in the country. These are dumb radio devices that only have a 100-200 ft. range and the box uses dial-up modem technology from the 90s. I wouldn't be surprised if they ran the entire monitoring center on a few old PC servers.

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @10:01AM (#33845244) Homepage

    In addition to having the largest number of prisoners by headcount, the US has a comfortable lead in the largest percentage of its population (715/100K) in prison. Russia and Belarus (core of the former Soviet Union) are the closest competitors (554-585/100K), followed by an assortment of various small "third world" countries, other former Soviet-bloc states, South Africa, and Singapore. Not great company. The first western-European country – the societies that the US is supposedly closest to in culture and values – on the list is Spain at #61, with 144/100K; most of western Europe is under 100/100K. Canada is at 116/100K. Granted, I wouldn't want to live in some of the countries toward the bottom of the list either; something tells me that they're doing something wrong, too. But a country that has more people in prison than it has in New Mexico? Something's clearly wrong there.

    Stats: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_pri_per_cap-crime-prisoners-per-capita [nationmaster.com]

  • Re:2 billion... (Score:4, Informative)

    by bugsbunnyak (1148775) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @10:17AM (#33845330)
    Not a, uh, user - but here's an interesting background article: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/09/prison-without-walls/8195/ [theatlantic.com]
  • by arth1 (260657) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @11:37AM (#33845770) Homepage Journal

    For the benefit of those who don't know how much/little this really is, a regular (80 mm) cigarette is about 1 gram, so 20 g equates to a pack of cigarettes.
    Now, your typical U.S. reefer is fatter than a cigarette, but also mixed with tobacco, so a "typical" one usually contains slightly less than a gram of marijuana.
    So 20 g roughly equates to 25 Mary Janes.

    Hashish, on the other hand, is far heavier before being processed (heated and smoldered), and 20 g probably equates to a matchbook sized brick. And due to it being far stronger than cannabis too, hash cigarettes will have less hashish in them, so you can probably have 40 of them without hitting the limit.

  • by twidarkling (1537077) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @02:20PM (#33846822)

    You obviously don't know the meaning of physical castration, the effects of chemical castration, and the varieties of violent sex offences.

    Physical castration is simple removal of the testicles. You can still gain and maintain an erection after such a procedure on a normal male. Rape is still possible, especially since it's less about sex, and more about power, thus a sex drive reduction is immaterial to the process.

    Chemical castration prevents erections, as long as you're still taking the drugs. Miss a dose, and you're operational again fairly quickly. However, it doesn't stop sex drive at all, nor does it curb aggressive behaviour, so foreign object rape is still possible, which is usually much more damaging to the victim. Also, the chemicals required are *really* fucking expensive.

    And your plan doesn't cover female sex offenders in any way, shape, or form. Please, before you spout off idiocy, make sure it's actually idiocy that stands some hope in hell of actually working, instead of just inflicting it on those of use who use our brains as more than a way to keep our ears separated.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Sunday October 10, 2010 @08:31AM (#33851500) Homepage Journal

    The Supreme Court of the United States disagrees with you

    They're the criminals here -- they have a considerable stake in disagreeing with me. However, the constitution is entirely on my side.

    These are the very people who think they can re-define "shall make no law" as "hey! Let's make a law!", and "shall not infringe" as "hey! Lets infringe!", and "interstate commerce" as "intrastate commerce", and "shall make no ex post facto laws" as "hey! let's make some ex post facto laws!", and so forth.

    The US Supreme Court is a den of oath-breaking, constitution violating, unauthorized and illicit operators.

    I may not be able to do anything about it, but I can certainly observe it. It's right there to see. The constitution defines the role of the legislature, judiciary and executive. When they step out of those roles, they're acting in an unauthorized manner. Only the constitution gives them any authorization to do form a framework to do anything, and further, it locks them out of many types of actions; no law that steps outside those authorizations, or enters into areas forbidden, is actually valid. It is an unauthorized, and therefore illegal, exercise of coercive force.

    You can quote law and judicial opinion until you grow hair on your palms, but the fact is, those offices were never authorized to operate in a vacuum. They have well defined roles within which they may operate in an authorized manner. When they claim otherwise, they are no longer operating as a legitimate arm of our authorized government: They are acting as a ruling force, despotic, coercive, and arbitrary.

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