Nextgov.com, By Aliya Sternstein 12/07/2010
Many federal efforts that arguably use data mining might be flying under the radar because the law requiring agencies to report on such activities applies a very narrow definition of the practice, according to a Constitution Project report released on Tuesday. Broadening that definition was among several policy recommendations the nonprofit organization made in the report (Principles for Government Data Mining, Preserving Civil Liberties in the Information Age.)
Data mining, as currently defined, is the technique of performing searches to uncover patterns that could identify individuals involved in terrorist or criminal activities. Agencies need not include subject-based searches, where officials scan data for content that meets specific parameters, in annual reports the 2007 Data Mining Reporting Act mandates.
The 2009 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, for instance, did not include many of ODNI's counterterrorism efforts that use link analysis tools. Therefore, it lacked analyses of the effectiveness of the tools, and the technologies in use -- all elements agencies are required to disclose for data mining activities that meet the law's definition.
Unlike pattern-identification tools, link analysis programs start with a known person of interest and use methods to detect links between that known subject and potential associates.
"We recommend expanding the definition of data mining programs under the act to reflect the broader definition applied in this report, and thereby require reporting on a greater number of programs," the Constitution Project study stated. The project's senior counsel, Sharon Bradford Franklin, acknowledged Congress would have to mandate such a change, and that likely will take time.
The Constitution project wants to include link analysis tools in the government definition of data mining
December 13, 2010