Defense committee urges data mining framework

A special committee has released findings on ways the Defense Department can use data mining to help identify terrorists while also protecting the privacy of private citizens.

Among other things, the committee calls for a regulatory framework for all DOD data mining, a policy-level privacy officer and a panel of external advisers to identify and resolve privacy issues.

The Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee, appointed by Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, came together in February 2003 to examine ways the government could use advanced information technologies to identify terrorists before they act.

The committee was appointed around the same time legislators were in heated battle with officials in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency over its Terrorism Information Awareness program.

TIA was a computerized terrorist tracking system designed to collect and correlate information from disparate databases ranging from financial to health, to help the government track down potential terrorists. Congress terminated most of the program’s funding last fall.

The committee was asked to come up with ways DOD could develop safeguards to ensure that data mining techniques are consistent with U.S. law concerning privacy.

Over the course of its background briefings, research and public hearings, committee members called more than 60 witnesses from DOD, other government agencies, industry, academia and advocacy groups, to testify.

Although TAPAC’s final report was sent to Rumsfeld in March, it was released Thursday. Among the 12 recommendations:

  • DOD should protect the privacy of U.S. citizens when using data mining to fight terrorism

  • Rumsfeld should establish a regulatory framework that is applicable to all DOD data mining

  • DOD should support research that improves the accuracy and effectiveness of data mining systems and technologies

  • Rumsfeld should create a policy-level privacy officer and a panel of external advisers on identifying and resolving privacy issues

“The committee believes that data mining plays a critical role in the fight against terrorism, but that it should be used—and can be effectively—only in ways that do not compromise the privacy of U.S. persons,” committee chairman Newton N. Minow said in the letter to Rumsfeld.

The committee added that TIA was only one of the programs in DOD and other government agencies that uses, or has the potential to use, data mining technologies.

“The report makes a substantial contribution in two respects,” Rumsfeld said. “First, it highlights the potential risks to privacy that certain modern technologies may entail. Second, it draws attention in the post-Sept. 11 world to the importance of finding the proper balance between privacy, a value fundamental for Americans, and security.”

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