"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Another Mining Disaster 

You have probably already seen this chilling story from the Christian Science Monitor:
The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.

The system - parts of which are operational, parts of which are still under development - is already credited with helping to foil some plots. It is the federal government's latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis in the fight against terrorism. But by delving deeply into the digital minutiae of American life, the program is also raising concerns that the government is intruding too deeply into citizens' privacy....

The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). Only a few public documents mention it. ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio. The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this year.

DHS officials are circumspect when talking about ADVISE. "I've heard of it," says Peter Sand, director of privacy technology. "I don't know the actual status right now. But if it's a system that's been discussed, then it's something we're involved in at some level."

Obviously, I don't trust the government to collect and store this much personal information about the American citizenry - I fully expect that it will be misused and abused. But then again, I'm just an old hippie with a bad attitude about authority. Most Americans trust their government to make only appropriate use of the data it mines, or so I imagine. So let's assume that no one within the government will misuse this program. Does that make it a good idea? Not exactly:
An ambitious program to check every domestic airline passenger's name against government terrorist watch lists may not be immune from hackers, a congressional investigator said Thursday.

And because of security concerns, the government is going back to the drawing board with the program called Secure Flight after spending nearly four years and $150 million on it, the Senate Commerce Committee was told.

Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley did not say whether any security breaches had been discovered. An agency spokeswoman, Amy von Valter, told reporters, "We don't believe any passenger information has been compromised."

You see, we don't need a corrupt government in place before these sorts of privacy intrusions become dangerous. Any good, old-fashioned incompetent government will do.

 

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