GAO Report Reveals Rampant Federal Data Mining

Although Congress put an end to the Pentagon's Terrorism Information Awareness project, a GAO report shows that nearly 200 data mining initiatives are under way or in the works.

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Congress put the kibosh on the Pentagons Terrorism Information Awareness electronic surveillance program in February, but data mining remains alive and thriving throughout the federal government. A General Accounting Office report released Thursday enumerates nearly 200 data mining initiatives in operation or in the works.

Scores of data-mining projects that collect and analyze U.S. citizens personal information are in operation at dozens of federal agencies, the GAO found. Many of the nearly 200 projects planned or already under way rely on data purchased from the commercial sector.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about the dropped Terrorism Information Awareness project.

Civil rights advocates have raised concerns that the governments use of commercial data—rather than data it collects itself—allows agencies to dodge laws protecting citizens privacy.

Many of the data mining initiatives use off-the-shelf software packages purchased to improve agency performance or better manage human resources.

For example, the Air Force uses Oracle HR to manage information related to pay grades, security clearances and promotions; and the IRS uses Oracle Model 33 Partnership Scoring Model to identify noncompliance in partnership tax returns.

But many other initiatives draw from a variety of private-sector databases and personal information for the purpose of analyzing intelligence and detecting terrorist or criminal activity. The Department of Defense alone has 47 data-mining projects planned or already in place.

The Department of Homeland Security, the national clearinghouse for security-related data, draws the most extensively from personal and private-sector information for its data-mining initiatives. One DHS system in operation, called "Analyst Notebook 12," correlates people and events with other, unidentified information.

DHSs planned "Incident Data Mart" will examine law enforcement and other government logs—such as traffic tickets, drug arrests or gun possession records—seeking patterns and any type of unusual activity. It will mine personal information, private-sector data and data from other agencies.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, civil rights advocates have raised concerns over the potential for blurring lines between the military and civilian law enforcement.

The GAO report lists several examples of Pentagon tools for criminal investigation, including an Air Force system called "Modus Operandi Database," which is used to identify and track trends in criminal behavior.

/zimages/2/28571.gifFor insights on security coverage around the Web, check out Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

The report also illustrates the extent to which many federal agencies beyond the Department of Justice are involved in criminal investigation through data mining.

The Department of Education operates a program called the "Foreign Schools Initiatives National Student Loan Data System," which seeks to detect criminal activity by processing data about financial aid granted to students attending foreign institutions.

The Department of Energy runs the Counterintelligence Automated Investigative Management System, which tracks cases of individuals or countries that threaten DOE assets. The personal information stored in this database is also used by federal and state law enforcement for national security.

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