CATO Report on Data Mining and Terrorism

Definitely worth reading:

Though data mining has many valuable uses, it is not well suited to the terrorist discovery problem. It would be unfortunate if data mining for terrorism discovery had currency within national security, law enforcement, and technology circles because pursuing this use of data mining would waste taxpayer dollars, needlessly infringe on privacy and civil liberties, and misdirect the valuable time and energy of the men and women in the national security community.

Posted on December 13, 2006 at 1:38 PM15 Comments


cmills December 13, 2006 2:24 PM

“Information about key members of the 9/11 plot was available to the U.S. government prior to the attacks, and the 9/11 terrorists were closely connected to one another in a multitude of ways. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States concluded that, by pursuing the leads available to it at the time, the government might have derailed the plan.”

If the government didn’t pay attention to clear evidence of malicious terrorist intent, then I am not convinced that they are using information gathered through data mining for the purpose of uncovering terrorist plots, because that information would be far more vague. This only reinforces my suspicions of the government using illegal practices to stage a whole new big brotheresque system of public surveillance in order to alienate misfits and malcontents from society and nab them for small offenses, or detainment under some sort of selective blanket protocol.

nzruss December 13, 2006 2:51 PM

I’m waiting for our credit ratings (and insurance premiums) to be adjusted by a ‘terrorist threat factor’ derived from such databases.

Blanket Protocol December 13, 2006 2:55 PM

@cmills – Things don’t have to be so nefarious.

The guys deciding to monitor everybody all the time could just be covering their own asses.

Actually pursuing the “leads” belongs to another department. Call it an “externality”.

derf December 13, 2006 2:57 PM

Dear Mr. John Smith, Your appeal for the loan at WalkAllOverYa Bank has been denied due to your clear terrorist associations. We understand your claim that there may be more than one John Smith living in the USA, but at this time, we are not prepared to loan money to anyone named John Smith.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

DaveBusiness December 13, 2006 3:07 PM

“If the government didn’t pay attention to clear evidence of malicious terrorist intent …”

Don’t you mean the square root of terrorist intent?

Anonymous December 13, 2006 3:56 PM

@ blanket protocol
If the investigating party wields enough clout to influence the department responsible for pursuing leads into doing so, and wants to put a certain person into custody, do you think that they will be above using blanket terms such as “suspected of associating with a terrorist organization” in order to do so?

cmills December 13, 2006 4:07 PM

@ blanket protocol

I lived in Miami during the FTAA meetings and saw the young and the old being beaten and detained for protesting. Not just the young rebellious types, but sound minded individuals who were exercising their rights and staying in the designated areas for demonstration. I can only imagine that similar things are happening in a more covert manner.

John R. Campbell December 13, 2006 9:22 PM

It strikes me that data mining is a better mechanism to control/suppress dissent through encouraging self-censorship or outright intimidation.

Mind you, using “terrorism” as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse to drive acceptance for this infrastructure is really a smokescreen.

The transparent society envisioned by David Brin (and notable in his novel “Earth”) is an interesting concept, but, truly, transparency across ALL parts of society is, for the most part, unlikely. John Brunner explored the other side of that coin in “Shockwave Rider”.

Transparency can only be tolerated (much less embraced) when everyone loses privacy, rather than all of us but the “elite”.

Of course, even with lives as dull as ditchwater, data mining may make… ahem… unexpected connections.

averros December 13, 2006 11:55 PM

The massive surveilliance has only one purpose – to instill fear of the Government Almighty in the sheepie. As for dealing with the real dangers to the government, there’s no need to nab them for minor offenses and track their movements when simply planting some drugs would suffice to nab them for a long time.

Actually, my own contacts with secret police agencies in different countries convinced me that the only thing which is really secret about them is their astonishing incompetence. Their reputation is based on the fear-mongering alone; even the mighty Soviet KGB which employed close to a million people was unable to squelch a small bunch of vocal dissidents.

So let them drown in the flood of irrelevant data. It looks scary, but in the reality it will make them even more impotent .

supersnail December 14, 2006 4:23 AM

“So let them drown in the flood of irrelevant data. It looks scary, but in the reality it will make them even more impotent .”
The problem here as that incompetence is not the same as impotence. The problem is that incompotent but powerful agencies will use “proof” supplied by data mining to make life hell for spme innicent suckers.

Comment December 14, 2006 5:34 AM

Interesting – not so much for what the report say, but for the arguments that is not said.

This trend is eroding – NOT improving – security as it makes all wictims more vulnurable wheras the attackers can easilty hide.

This trend also WORSEN market processes as it unbalance the end-purchasers pwoer and ability to enforce actual preferences on the value chain innovation process.

Even worse because we see a strong tendency to make business silos around the communication gateways and espacially the “trusted parties” which of course turn out to be not-so-trustworthy by the very design choices.

Government fail to see that what they are doing is making soctety still more ineffective eGovernment is turning into an ever worse conmmand and control type of economy where there are no innovation drivers. The same problem is now being exported to the private sector and abroad through legislation and legislation-like standardisation.

This is not only about some ligth-weight civil liberty issues which are easily pushed aside with “Are you with us or with the terrorist”.

What they are really ignoring is that they are CREATING crime and terror through abusing or fighting such unreflected initiatives (incl. feed channels that require bad security) and DESTROYING the fundamental innovation and prosperity drivers in the economy.

The term “group decision process” must have a bigger brother reflecting the combination of concentration of power and sheer incompetence interlinked and scaled through global communication and a media mindspan.meassured in minutes rather than days.

Question is what historians 50 years from now are going to call this maybe all-time-low in political ideology and open society?

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