Aggregating data helps, but raises privacy concerns

Data mining is one way homeland security analysts can generate aggregate data sets. But cultural practices have not kept up with technology.

In January, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced the Data Mining Moratorium Act of 2003. The bill sought to suspend data mining at the Defense and Homeland Security departments until Congress had reviewed the implications of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Total Information Awareness program. Subsequently, lawmakers demanded in the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill that DOD report on DARPA's data-mining effort and get congressional approval for technology use under the TIA program.

Through the program, DARPA planned to develop technologies for scanning a wide array of personal transactions to identify possible terrorist activity. Lawmakers also decided TIA must exclude the scanning of U.S. citizens' records.

Several civil liberties groups joined Feingold in condemning the collection and analysis of commercially held personal information, such as credit card purchases and medical records.

James Lewis, senior fellow and director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, noted that in times of crisis, the American people historically have consented to limits on their freedom.

'But when the crisis is over, they tend to try to limit the government again,' Lewis said. 'A problem arises when we create these big bureaucracies'they can be very hard to dismantle.'

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