Monday, March 26, 2007

The New Data Mountain

Yesterday's Washington Post had a chilling article on the burgeoning data collection on American citizens and foreign visitors. The sheer volume is staggering, and it has quadrupled in a very short time. How that data is collected and how it is used should trouble all Americans.

Each day, thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world -- field reports, captured documents, news from foreign allies and sometimes idle gossip -- arrive in a computer-filled office in McLean, where analysts feed them into the nation's central list of terrorists and terrorism suspects.

Called TIDE, for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, the list is a storehouse for data about individuals that the intelligence community believes might harm the United States. It is the wellspring for watch lists distributed to airlines, law enforcement, border posts and U.S. consulates, created to close one of the key intelligence gaps revealed after Sept. 11, 2001: the failure of federal agencies to share what they knew about al-Qaeda operatives.

Once again 9/11 is being used as an excuse for the unprecedented governmental spying on Americans. A central clearing house for all the bits of information collected in secret by multiple agencies (many not in existence at the time of 9/11, or, if in existence, not allowed to operate domestically) may sound benign, but if the information is collected from "idle gossip" or from warrantless wire taps, then that central clearing house is nothing more than a snooper's paradise.

TIDE has also created concerns about secrecy, errors and privacy. The list marks the first time foreigners and U.S. citizens are combined in an intelligence database. The bar for inclusion is low, and once someone is on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it. At any stage, the process can lead to "horror stories" of mixed-up names and unconfirmed information, Travers acknowledged.

In 2004 and 2005, misidentifications accounted for about half of the tens of thousands of times a traveler's name triggered a watch-list hit, the Government Accountability Office reported in September. Congressional committees have criticized the process, some charging that it collects too much information about Americans, others saying it is ineffective against terrorists. Civil rights and privacy groups have called for increased transparency.

"How many are on the lists, how are they compiled, how is the information used, how do they verify it?" asked Lillie Coney, associate director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. Such information is classified, and individuals barred from traveling are not told why.
[Emphasis added]

The fact that those on any of these watch-lists are not told why they are on the list means that they have no way to contest the matter. This is bad enough. What is worse is that the raw data is collected in questionable ways and there appears to be absolutely no oversight on how it is collected and how it is used.

And each day that mountain grows.

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Blogger Dirk Gently said...

and you thought admiral poindexter would just go away. hah.

8:05 AM  

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