Total Information Awareness: A Brazen, Bad Plan

The San Francisco Chronicle takes aim at the Total Information Awareness program in an editorial today - here's some, but go read the whole thing.
Medical histories. Financial records, including individual transactions. Security cameras. Divorce files and college transcripts. The tracking of cell- phone calls and toll-booth passages. Reading habits, as culled from library records and bookstore purchases.

Bits of information from these and other sources, when combined, can produce a comprehensive profile of an individual. It also could be misleading, dangerously so, if some of the input is inaccurate. Yet the Bush administration appears determined to steam ahead toward an unprecedented system of data-mining under the direction of former National Security Adviser John Poindexter, a major figure in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal during the Reagan administration.

The prospect that an American can be identified as a suspect through a flawed database is particularly chilling in view of the USA Patriot Act, which gives authorities sweeping new powers to conduct searches without notifying the subjects -- and even detain "enemy combatants" without judicial oversight....

The issue is not whether Americans feel comfortable in giving vast new surveillance powers to President Bush, John Ashcroft or any other leader. The founding fathers knew the folly of trusting basic freedoms to the benevolence and wisdom of people who happen to be in power at any given moment.

"A government of laws," declared John Adams, our second president, "and not of men."

That admonition should apply to the government's latest attempt to exploit advancements in technology -- and fears of terrorism -- to track the everyday lives of Americans.
And read Sen. Patrick Leahy's letter to Ashcroft about how little Congress has been told about the data-mining plan, and what's wrong with it.
Moreover, as Federal law enforcement agencies obtain public source and proprietary data for mining, the sheer volume of information may make updating the data and checks for reliability and accuracy difficult, if not impossible. Reliance on data mining by law enforcement agencies may produce an increase in false leads and law enforcement mistakes. While the former is a waste of resources, the latter may result in mistaken arrests or surveillance. Such mistakes do occur, even without data-mining.1 In short, while the only ill effect of business reliance on outdated or incorrect information may be misdirected marketing efforts, data mining mistakes made by a law enforcement agency may result in misdirection or misallocation of limited government resources and devastating consequences for mistakenly targeted Americans.

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