Able Danger Blog

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

64% of Americans still trust their government

Here is an interesting perspective on Able Danger and the concerns with data mining, from a new site called Group Intel:

Developing meaningful and actionable intelligence requires information, which in turn is built up by collecting a lot of data. I hear tell that we are in the information age, so getting our hands on a lot of data should be fairly easy. That we have the technical capability to do so is apparently a problem for those who think that our fight against terrorism should be based on a strategy that is information free.

Take the open source, data mining effort that was Able Danger. It sorted through vast amounts of completely unclassified, publicly available data and reportedly identified a number of the 9/11 hijackers (before 9/11) as well as the threat to the USS Cole. The program was reportedly shut down and its data deleted because of (unwarranted) fears that “US Persons” data had been viewed/used.

More recently phone numbers and email addresses obtained from captured terrorist phones and computers were used to seed NSA efforts to identify potential terrorists or their supporters in the US. This has sparked fears that the NSA is “spying on Americans” though based on all accounts the only people actually subjected to any scrutiny had some kind of connection (tenuous as it may have been) to an actual bad guy.

Commentary and opinion from those who think that we shouldn’t be taking advantage of information age tools in the information age – those not suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome - primarily concern themselves with potential violations of privacy rights, and view the use of both public and private information as a harbinger of a return to the bad old days of COINTELPRO and the Nixon Enemies List. They use words like “surveillance” and “spying” when in fact an almost infinitesimal number of Americans are actually being “surveilled” while the vast majority of us are merely being scanned, filtered, and discarded. When asked 64% of Americans could apparently care less.

Here is the survey he is referring to at the end:

December 28, 2005--Sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans believe the National Security Agency (NSA) should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that just 23% disagree.

Electronic intercepts aside, Choicepoint, finance companies, the DNC, the RNC, mass marketers, and others already have massive data mining capabilities. Do we really want to prevent our counterintelligence professionals from using the same tools?

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

"The U.S. is to privacy what Caribbean islands are to money laundering," said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, deputy counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "If you want to store personal information in a jurisdiction where there are almost no legal protections, the U.S. is the place to do it."