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Data Mining

Several years ago, the Department of Defense began developing a program called Total Information Awareness, a massive data mining project analyzing personal information on every citizen of the United States. After a series of blistering op-eds and strong negative public reaction, the Senate voted to stop all funding for the program.

But now, it appears, that the FBI is dreaming up a similar program. According to the AP:

The FBI wants to compile a massive computer database and analyze it for clues to unmask terrorist sleeper cells.

Two congressmen are worried about whether the bureau will protect the privacy of U.S. citizens.

Reps. Brad Miller, D-N.C., and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the chairman and ranking Republican on the House Science and Technology investigations subcommittee, asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the proposal. Their June 4 letter to GAO was released Tuesday.

Miller and Sensenbrenner questioned both the FBI’s ability to properly manage such a large trove of data and whether predictive data-mining even works or just falsely casts suspicion on innocent people.

The FBI is seeking $12 million in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 for its Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force to set up a National Security Branch Analysis Center, with 59 employees, including 23 contractors and five FBI agents.

Justice Department budget documents submitted to Congress predict the center will hold 6 billion records by 2012 and “the universe of subjects will expand exponentially.” That would equal “20 separate ‘records’ for each man, woman and child in the United States,” the congressmen wrote.

I’m generally not a fan of government data mining programs. Thus far, I don’t think that the case has been made to justify the expenditure of resources for such programs; nor has the case been made to justify the cost in terms of burdens to privacy and liberty. For more about my views, see my recent essay, Data Mining and the Security-Liberty Debate, written for an upcoming symposium on surveillance for the U. Chicago Law Review. The symposium website is here.

The letter by the congressmen to the GAO is available here.

Hat tip:

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

If you are interested in privacy and data security issues, there are many great ways Professor Solove can help you stay informed:
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