The government now calls it “factual data analysis,” but data mining by any other name smells as potentially rotten to civil liberties advocates.
Three federal agencies—the Pentagons Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, and the FBI—are developing new data analysis systems. The systems are slated to move beyond the tactics of traditional data mining, typically used for marketing purposes, to more targeted approaches. Nonetheless, they are built on the cornerstone of detecting patterns and relationships in huge volumes of data.
Critics of data mining suggest that while the technology is guaranteed to invade personal privacy, it is not so certain to enhance national security. Terrorists do not operate under discernable patterns, they contend, and therefore the technology will likely be targeted primarily at innocent people.
Tuesday, the House subcommittee on technology and information policy, heard from three federal proponents of the technology to consider whether it enhances national security. Civil liberties activists are urging Congress to increase its role in overseeing the governments use of such technologies.
By the summer of 2004, airport lines will be shorter and decisions as to which passengers get pulled out for extra screening will seem less arbitrary, according to James Loy, TSA administrator. New prescreening technologies under development will create a more standardized risk assessment program, Loy said in written testimony to the subcommittee Tuesday.
Airlines today use TSAs Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening program to determine which passengers must undergo enhanced screening before boarding a plane, and the agency is developing CAPPS II, which will be more effective at identifying high-risk passengers, Loy said in his testimony.
The new system will use “dynamic intelligence information” to select passengers for extra screening. Under CAPPS II, the number of airplane travelers going through extra screening is expected to drop significantly from the 15 percent that undergo it today, Loy told lawmakers.
Addressing one concern of the privacy rights community, Loy testified that CAPPS II will not store large quantities of data or retain data on passengers that are cleared to board planes. After travel is completed, the records will be purged, he said.
Loy also testified that the systems authentication function will be conducted mostly by non-government databases with commercially available data, and the employees of the data companies will not directly view the passengers personal information.
DARPA is pursuing a somewhat different kind of data mining, according to Anthony Tether, DARPA director. Recognizing that identifying complicated terrorist plots requires detecting extremely rate patterns, the Pentagons research agency is developing technology to search for evidence of specified patterns, Tether said in written testimony to the subcommittee.
DARPAs new method begins with the development of terrorism scenarios based on previous attacks, intelligence analysis, “war games in which clever people imagine ways to attack the United States and its deployed forces,” and other information, Tether said in his testimony Tuesday. Then data would be queried using “either known, identified suspects or known, identified patterns,” he said.
Subcommitte Chairman Adam Putnam, R- Fla., said the subcommittee panel will meet in two weeks to take a look at the privacy and personal freedom questions raised by data mining.
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