FBI Plans Data Mining Project

fbi6.jpgSeveral years ago, the Department of Defense began developing a program called Total Information Awareness, a massive data mining project analyzing personal information on every citizen of the United States. After a series of blistering op-eds and strong negative public reaction, the Senate voted to stop all funding for the program.

But now, it appears, that the FBI is dreaming up a similar program. According to the AP:

The FBI wants to compile a massive computer database and analyze it for clues to unmask terrorist sleeper cells.

Two congressmen are worried about whether the bureau will protect the privacy of U.S. citizens.

Reps. Brad Miller, D-N.C., and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the chairman and ranking Republican on the House Science and Technology investigations subcommittee, asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the proposal. Their June 4 letter to GAO was released Tuesday.

Miller and Sensenbrenner questioned both the FBI’s ability to properly manage such a large trove of data and whether predictive data-mining even works or just falsely casts suspicion on innocent people.

The FBI is seeking $12 million in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 for its Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force to set up a National Security Branch Analysis Center, with 59 employees, including 23 contractors and five FBI agents.

Justice Department budget documents submitted to Congress predict the center will hold 6 billion records by 2012 and “the universe of subjects will expand exponentially.” That would equal “20 separate ‘records’ for each man, woman and child in the United States,” the congressmen wrote.

I’m generally not a fan of government data mining programs. Thus far, I don’t think that the case has been made to justify the expenditure of resources for such programs; nor has the case been made to justify the cost in terms of burdens to privacy and liberty. For more about my views, see my recent essay, Data Mining and the Security-Liberty Debate, written for an upcoming symposium on surveillance for the U. Chicago Law Review. The symposium website is here.

The letter by the congressmen to the GAO is available here.

Hat tip: Privacy.org

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1 Response

  1. peoplesbranch says:

    This type of data collection has been occurring for years, especially within our nations financial institutions. (Pleas see BSA Regulations) The real issue is the free and clear government access to this information with out due process, not to mention the lack of regulation regarding other possible “usages” of this information. For more information regarding one of the many newer programs the TIA moved to, please also see: Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancemen (aka A.D.V.I.S.E.)