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February 09, 2006

Karl Rove Got Your Name?

Government Data-mining has the data-collection and analysis capacity to troll blogs and emails, among other sources as part of its fight against terrorism.  Even if we had a government we could trust, many of us doubt this intrusion into our private lives is warranted.  The exception might be if we had decent Congressional oversight which we currently don't have.

The Christian Science Monitor has an article up today on the program.  Turns out the program, called ADVISE (Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement) has been going for three years, tucked into the Dept. of Homeland Security at a budget of $50 million this year.  Like the grocery store programs that analyze our buying habits, only on a breathakingly larger scale, ADVISE connects the dots on all those little pieces of online information we leave behind.  Think about that the next time you provide just enough information to be able to read an article on the Seattle Times online or send your Congresscritter a letter online.   Those of us who blog and leave comments on other blogs are subject to a program called "starlight" which identifies clusters of talk online.

All of this is designed to foil terrorist plots and the government claims it has but . . . but . . but. . . I just find I feel less safe, not more.  There are others who are concerned as well.

"One element of the NSA's domestic spying program that has gotten too little attention is the government's reportedly widespread use of data-mining technology to analyze the communications of ordinary Americans," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D) of Wisconsin in a Jan. 23 statement.

Senator Feingold is among a handful of congressmen who have in the past sponsored legislation - unsuccessfully - to require federal agencies to report on data-mining programs and how they maintain privacy.

Without oversight and accountability, critics say, even well-intentioned counterterrorism programs could experience mission creep, having their purview expanded to include non- terrorists - or even political opponents or groups. "The development of this type of data-mining technology has serious implications for the future of personal privacy," says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

Those implications?

While privacy laws do place some restriction on government use of private data - such as medical records - they don't prevent intelligence agencies from buying information from commercial data collectors. Congress has done little so far to regulate the practice or even require basic notification from agencies, privacy experts say.

Indeed, even data that look anonymous aren't necessarily so. For example: With name and Social Security number stripped from their files, 87 percent of Americans can be identified simply by knowing their date of birth, gender, and five-digit Zip code, according to research by Latanya Sweeney, a data-privacy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.

In a separate 2004 report to Congress, the GAO cited eight issues that need to be addressed to provide adequate privacy barriers amid federal data-mining. Top among them was establishing oversight boards for such programs.

Much of the flare-up of concern over the unwarranted wiretapping is related to this issue.  Congress is supposed to be providing oversight.  If the administration had had its way, we wouldn't even have known about the program; even 95% of Congress wouldn't have known.  Can't provide oversight if we don't know about the program.

Posted by Lynn Allen on February 9, 2006 at 11:28 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink


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Human beings are so clever! ADVISE, eh? Reminds me a bit of SLiME (subsurface lithoautotrophic microbial ecosystem). Something about the similarity between biological development -- how it happens in every potential way and environment -- and technological development. Both relentless.

"Some bacteria can live kilometers beneath the surface... living on nothing but rock and water, extracting energy from chemical reactions rather than from sunlight. Life on Earth, and perhaps on Mars and even other planetary bodies may have originated in such strange environments." (http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Dec96/LifeUnderground.html -- discussion of SLiMEs in WA state.)

Of course, ADVISE is frightening and SLiME is merely amazing. SLiME may be our origins. We didn't evolve from monkeys -- but on the evolutionary tree, both monkeys and humans may belong to branches that hook up somewhere at the beginning with rock-eating organisms...

Things like ADVISE will never stop being developed. This is almost inevitable, the development of technology that can be used for ever more precise tools to manipulate our environment and other people -- for good or for ill. The only protection against the nefarious potential of human ability is the fostering of what is positive about human ability -- culture and community, having a culture that values honest and respectful ways to think about and act toward each other. The vast majority of people -- regardless of their political views -- are decent. Our current bitter discourse prevents this majority from joining forces against the plans of the sociopathic minority --

What we have now in the Bush era is a big fight -- which way will we turn -- away from community that can serve as a kind of immune system against exploitation, or toward community that allows people to develop their best potential. Because technological progress -- and social interaction -- just like biological growth, proceed according to their own logic. They can be meddled with, partially halted, diverted to a certain extent - but they are all beyond the direct control of people and organizations. You cannot stop it, just as you cannot stop ecosystems from doing their thing miles below the surface of the earth.

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Feb 9, 2006 4:29:45 PM


I think your last paragraph just nailed it the entire situation right now. There is a bunch of stuff we can't change much but how we react to it and what kind of community we have in place to help us through it matter. Those we have control over.

Posted by: Lynn | Feb 9, 2006 10:29:29 PM

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