Democrats put spotlight on data mining

GAO report on data mining from 2004 (.pdf)

As expected, Democrats are delving into the Bush administration’s programs and peeling back the covers.

On Jan. 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first hearing of the new Congress looked at the executive branch’s use of data-mining programs. In his opening statement, committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) vowed more investigations into the administration’s privacy initiatives.

Leahy said the government has dramatically increased its collection and monitoring of sensitive personal data from the public. He said efforts have gone ahead without congressional oversight or comprehensive privacy safeguards.

He cited a May 2004 Government Accountability Office report that found at least 52 federal agencies using data-mining technology and at least 199 government data-mining programs in operation or planned throughout the federal government.

Technological advances make data banks and data mining useful as a national security tool, Leahy said. “But we need to ensure we use them appropriately,” he added.

Also on Jan. 10, Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.) introduced a bill that would require federal agencies to report to Congress on data-mining programs and how they affect people’s civil liberties and privacy rights.

“This bill is a way for Congress and the public to finally understand what is going on behind the closed doors of the executive branch so that we can start to have a policy discussion about data mining that is long overdue,” Feingold said in a press release.

Leahy supports the Feingold-Sununu legislation, calling it a “crucial first step in…pulling back the curtain on how this administration is using this technology.”

Senators introduced similar legislation in the previous Congress, but it received no attention from Republican leaders and did not get beyond a referral to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill again has been sent to the committee, which Leahy heads, for consideration.

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