NRC advises safeguards for counterterrorism programs

The National Research Council recently offered some good advice
about counterterrorism programs that rely on data mining to spot
possible terrorist activity. All programs that collect or mine
personal data, such as phone, medical and travel records or Web
site visits, should be systematically evaluated for effectiveness,
lawfulness and their effects on privacy, NRC said.

The study was done at the request of the Homeland Security
Department and National Science Foundation. NRC concluded that both
classified and unclassified programs should be evaluated before
going operational and periodically for as long as they operate.

The council also recommended that Congress reexamine privacy
laws and consider methods of redress for people harmed by the

'The danger of terror attacks on the U.S. is real and
serious, and we should use the information technologies at our
disposal to combat this threat,' said William Perry,
co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report. 'However,
the threat does not justify government activities that violate the
law, or fundamental changes in the level of privacy protection to
which Americans are entitled.'

The problem is that investigators do not know enough about
terrorist behavior to be able to identify patterns of activity
associated with terrorists, the report states. The techniques would
be better used as secondary components to human analysis, the
document added.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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