KDnuggets : News : 2007 : n07 : item25 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >

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Subject: How To Not Catch Terrorists

Forbes, Bruce Schneier 03.26.07.

Data mining for terrorists: Itís an idea that just wonít die. But it wonít find any terrorists, it puts us at greater risk of crimes like identity theft, and it gives the police far too much power in a free society.

The first massive government program to collect dossiers on every American for data mining purposes was called Total Information Awareness. The public found the idea so abhorrent, and objected so forcefully, that Congress killed funding for the program in September 2003. But data mining is like a hydra--chop one head off, two more grow in its place. In May 2004, the General Accounting Office published a report that listed 122 different federal government data mining programs that used peopleís personal information. That didnít include classified military programs like Tangram, or state-run programs like MATRIX.

Now TIA is back with yet another name: Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement, or ADVISE. "It's an experiment to see how you can better analyze data that you already have, that you've already legally collected, to see if you can understand it, sort it and make use of it more readily than simply doing it manually," Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff told the Associated Press this month.

The names change, but the basic idea remains the same: suck up as much data as possible about everyone, sift through it with massive computers, and investigate patterns that might indicate terrorist plots. Itís a compelling idea, but itís wrong. Weíre not going to find terrorist plots through data mining, and weíre going to waste valuable resources chasing down false alarms.

Used properly, data mining is a great tool. As a result of data mining, AT&T reduces the costs of cell phone fraud, Amazon.com shows me books I might want to buy, and Google shows me advertising Iím more likely to be interested in. But it only works when thereís (1) a reasonable percentage of attacks per year, (2) a well-defined profile to search for, and (3) and a low cost of false alarms.

Read more.


KDnuggets : News : 2007 : n07 : item25 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >

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