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5/17/2004

Panel Urges New Protection on Federal 'Data Mining'

The New York Times:

"The eight-member panel, which includes former officials with decades of high-level government experience, found that the Defense Department and many other agencies were collecting and using 'personally identifiable information on U.S. persons for national security and law enforcement purposes.' Some of these activities, it said, resemble the Pentagon program initially known as Total Information Awareness, which was intended to catch terrorists before they struck, by monitoring e-mail messages and databases of financial, medical and travel information.
The Pentagon program, later renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, was flawed from the start, though its goal was worthwhile, the panel said. 'Our nation should use information technology and the power to search digital data to fight terrorism, but should protect privacy while doing so,' it concluded. 'In developing and using data mining tools, the government can and must protect privacy.'"
The Times previews a report by the Rumsfeld-commissioned Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee. The report usefully highlights the privacy risks in government data-mining, and recommends the novel idea of a system of checks and balances to prevent abuses:
"One of the panel's most important recommendations is to involve the courts in deciding when the government can search electronic databases.

In general, it said, the Defense Department and other federal agencies should be required to obtain approval from a special federal court "before engaging in data mining with personally identifiable information concerning U.S. persons."

To obtain such approval, the government would have to show that it needed the information to prevent or respond to terrorism. In an emergency, the government would not have to get approval in advance, but would need to seek a court order within 48 hours of beginning the search."
The report is going to be released, presumably to the public, in two weeks.

 

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