Data mining—its reliability, usefulness and potential threat to privacy—will be a recurring theme in Congress this year as government agencies attempt to increase their authority to collect, analyze and share information. Privacy rights defenders, worried about the governments habit of dipping into the private sectors wealth of stored data, are calling on Congress to regulate the increasingly popular technology.
Lawmakers charged with overseeing information policy are examining how government agencies and private enterprises sift through vast amounts of information, extract specific data and identify patterns. While businesses have long used the technology as a marketing tool and a means of estimating spending and revenue, there is a growing interest within government to use data mining in national security initiatives.
At a hearing last week of the House panel that oversees technology and information policy, lawmakers heard the concerns of the privacy rights community, which is pressing the government to design data searches that trace information but leave it anonymous unless special permission is granted to link it to an individual.
Jeffrey Rosen, associate professor at George Washington University Law School, in Washington, and an editor at The New Republic, called on the lawmakers to establish oversight authority over data mining. "Law enforcement has a long history of piggybacking on grand data warehouses [such as TRW Inc.]," Rosen said, suggesting that Congress should create a special data mining court.
Support for limited federal regulation also came from a Florida state senator, Paula Dockery, who told the congressional panel last week that data mining has been instrumental in tracking terrorist suspects since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We probably need some regulation to prevent us from going overboard," Dockery said.