Privacy, Data Mining and the Feds
Many Federal agencies are taking advantage of data mining technology to understand the data they collect. Data mining can be used to identify unexpected patterns for in large datasets. A classic data mining story is finding that a good number of men will buy both beer and diapers at the convenience stores - which could lead to the convenience store placing the diapers close to the beer so they can sell more of this combination. Just as financial companies use data mining to identify potential new sales opportunities, the federal government is using data mining to find better ways of serving their customers and finding patterns of fraud.
The most controversial use of data mining is used by the Department of Defense where the programs are being used to search through records for terrorists where the vast majority of people are not terrorists. This is problematic because this means that for people that have nothing to do with terrorism can have their data broadly viewed by people who don't have any reason to see it.
Because of the potential extensive invasion into the privacy of ordinary citizens, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Heritage Foundation have recommended methods that protect the privacy of citizens. The recommendations are similar to those enacted in the healthcare industry where providers can access only the data from patients that they are authorized to see.
Dempsey said the government could start by building safeguards into the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS II -- the airline database program that later this year would let authorities check people's backgrounds and assign them a color-coded security score.
Dempsey said that it's important to remember that technology can be used not only for invasive purposes but also to protect privacy.
"Technology need not only erode privacy," he said. "We can use technology to protect privacy as the government acquires more and more data and more data analytical capabilities. Let's build privacy into the design of these systems from the start."
A federal advisory committee chosen by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is expected to report to Congress on Thursday advising the legislators to pass laws that would regulate government use of databases to preserve the civil liberties as the government searches for terrorists.
Nevertheless, there are some on the right (our budding Gestapo) that call this concern an "irrational paranoia about computer technology that threatens to shutdown an entire front in the war on terror." According to this Manhattan Institute pundit, it's too much trouble to provide citizens any illusion of privacy and certainly gets in the way of the police state that we should expect if we want to have a "successful" war on terrorism.
Who do you think Rummy will listen to?