Your Ad Here
2004 June 04 Friday
Heather Mac Donald: Government Panel Opposes Google Searches By Spies

Heather Mac Donald reports on the latest neo-Luddite privacy insanity that is hobbling attempts to protect us from terrorism committed in the name of Islam.

The committee demands that counterterrorism analysts seek court approval to mine the Pentagon's own lawfully acquired intelligence files, if there is a chance that they might contain information on U.S. citizens or resident aliens -- basically all intelligence files. Eyeball scrutiny of those same files, however, requires no such judicial oversight. This rule suggests a bizarre conceit that the automation of human analysis, which is all data mining is, somehow violates privacy more than the observation of those same items by a person. In fact, the opposite is true. A computer has no idea what it is "reading," but merely selects items by rule.

The advisory committee's technophobia does not end with intelligence analysis. It would also require the defense secretary to give approval for, and certify the absolute necessity of, Google searches by intelligence agents. Even though any 12-year-old with a computer can freely surf the Web looking for Islamist chat rooms, defense analysts may not do so, according to the panel, without strict oversight.

Well, there goes any fantasy I ever had about becoming a secret agent for the US government in the war against Islamic terrorists. There is no way I would give up Google searches. If government spies are not going to be allowed to use Google then what technologically savvy person is going to want to become a spy?

A Google ban would lead to some interesting questions. Could a CIA agent use Google from his home? Also, just how far would the Google ban reach? Would it extend to all Defense Department employees? Would all the .mil readers who find my blog via Google (and there are some just about every day - are they spying on me? Am I a threat?) no longer be able to do so? Should the ban be extended to all of government? After all, regular government workers could potentially be recruited to do computer searches for DIA or CIA agents. Best to err on the side of privacy protection if you are a privacy extremist.

Also, if intelligence agents are going to be banned from doing computer searches for information then should Ctrl-F be disabled in their copies of Microsoft Word? Also, the Windows Explorer utility for file management has a search function for searching all the files on a disk. Should Microsoft make special national security version of Windows and Office that disable all searching functionality? Heck, why should spies be allowed to have computers at all? The privacy extremists say all this automation is encroaching on our liberties somehow or other. So then is the solution simply to outlaw government use of computers?

As Heather points out, the commercial databases of purchases and other economic activity are routinely bought and sold between companies with few restrictions. Searches through those databases with computers will not violate our privacy any more than it is already routinely violated by private industry.

I wonder how many people will have to die before intelligence agents will be allowed to fully utilize modern technology in their attempts to protect us. I guess we will find out.

See my previous post about Heather's writings on privacy and the response to the growing terrorist threat: Privacy Concerns Block Response To Terrorist Threat.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 June 04 08:03 PM  Terrorists Western Response


Comments
Bob Badour said at June 4, 2004 10:25 PM:

What happens when a security officer mistypes a URL and IE does a search from the address bar? Can you imagine the legal arguments? Poison fruit, indeed--more like grape koolaid.

Why do you need to know? said at June 5, 2004 3:18 PM:

Just because our personal information can be easily bought and sold today does not mean the practice is justified. When corporate America gets hold of our personal information by mining these databases, what usually happens is that, because they want to sell us more stuff, we get bombarded with spam or other advertisements. The worst that can happen is that you fall victim to identity theft. So if your basic premise is that, if corporations can do it, then the government should be able to do it, I'd say the premise is faulty. Americans should not accept the ease by which our personal information can be bought and sold. We should all demand greater restrictions on the use of our personal information by corporate America.

That said, however, you and Heather MacDonald seem to place too much trust in the government. Aren't conservatives supposed to be suspicious of Big Government? We live in an era in which the President of the United States can, without question, designate any American citizen as an enemy combatant, and hold that person indefinitely without even charging that person with a crime and allowing him to defend himself. We've seen recently that a lawyer in Oregon was falsely imprisoned by the government for two weeks on the basis of a faulty fingerprint match by the FBI. The government falsely accused Richard Jewell of being the Atlanta bomber. The government falsely accused Captain James Yee, an Army Muslim chaplain, of espionage ..... and then dropped the charges and released him. Then there's the case of Wen Ho Lee, a Los Alamos scientist charged with compromising nuclear secrets and imprisoned in solitary confinement for 9 months. The government eventually dropped all the serious charges and released him.

And I haven't even mentioned convicts on death row who have been exonerated due to DNA evidence.

The point is this: The government often makes mistakes. Big mistakes. And you want to allow the government to rummage through the financial transactions and other personal information of ordinary Americans, so they can decide who is a terrorist or other potential lawbreaker? When corporate America rummages through this information, you get more annoying advertisements. Allowing the government to do this, and guys with guns could very well come after you. How many Americans would be falsely accused, only to face daunting challenges in clearing their names, if this is allowed? How do you propose to prevent such mistakes from happening?

If your answer is that we should all just trust the government, well, that's no answer at all. If your answer is that such mistakes are simply the price we will have to pay to prevent a future terrorist attack, then we will soon be living in a police state in which that "knock at the door" could come to any of us at any time.

Prove to me that only the truly bad guys would be snared by government data mining, and that the rest of us could rest easy.

Randall Parker said at June 5, 2004 3:40 PM:

A few points:

1) More accurate information analyzed in more sophisticated ways will reduce government error rates. Governments convict wrong people when they can't find the real culprits. Allow them to more accurately identify the guilty and they will be less likely to falsely accuse the innocent.

2) Computer analysis can be improved a lot more reliably than can human analysis of the same data.

3) A lot of the stuff we do does not hurt us if other people know we do it.

4) The vast bulk of spam is not being directed to us based on database records. If all the spammers were using database information to direct spam we'd each be getting less spam since we'd get spam tailored to our interests. Instead we all get huge and growing amounts spam about topics we care not at all.

5) DNA evidence: Well, imagine that the government had DNA sequences on everyone in a central database. Then when a DNA sample was found at a crime scene the likelihood that a real criminal would be arrested and jailed for that crime would go up. Then with more criminals in jail there'd be less crime. Less crime means less chance that innocent people will be found guilty. If a crime is not committed in the first place then the odds of some innocent getting convicted for it goes way down. High crime rates inevitably mean that more innocents will be falsely accused.

6) Prove to me that government data mining would be more likely to finger the innocent than current investigation techniques. I expect the opposite will be the case.

7) Wen Ho Lee: Janet Reno blocked a wiretap against him before he would have become aware he was being investigated. Had the wiretap been done we would have found out whether he really was a spy. As it stands now we will never know. Take away the most accurate means for discovering the truth and the inevitable consequence is that more falsehoods will be believed.

8) I've argued on my FuturePundit blog that the death of privacy due to technological advances is inevitable. See my Surveillance Society archive for more on this.

Fly said at June 5, 2004 4:43 PM:

“We live in an era in which the President of the United States can, without question, designate any American citizen as an enemy combatant, and hold that person indefinitely without even charging that person with a crime and allowing him to defend himself.”

I don’t believe that is true. The President has less power than you seem to imagine.

Non-citizens may be and have been held. (Many were picked up after 911 when telephone intercepts overheard these visitors in our country celebrating the attack.) I also believe that historically our government has always imposed measures that impinged on citizen rights during a time of war.

I agree there is potential for abuse. That is why we need oversight and punishment for those who abuse their power. Internal and outside audits play an important role. We also need feedback that laws passed to prevent terrorism aren’t being used to further political agendas. The press and blogs can help.

I also agree that mistakes will be made and innocents will suffer. Innocents also suffer when criminals are free to prey. Many innocents will suffer if terrorists again successfully attack the US. I agree with Randall that better information and more computer analysis will lead to fewer innocents suffering. Maybe fewer innocents being falsely accused and definitely more bad guys being caught.

Before 911 I’d have said we had an acceptable balance of police powers and citizen security. Now we are at war with a ruthless enemy. The balance has shifted. I am much less concerned that my government watches me (or might mistake me for a criminal) than I am that a terrorist network will operate unhindered.


On different topic I find it absurd that people worry about the government invading their privacy when very little is done about identity theft. I’d give up more of my privacy to the government in order to prevent a criminal from using my personal info to commit crimes or rob me.


Randall,

“Then when a DNA sample was found at a crime scene the likelihood that a real criminal would be arrested and jailed for that crime would go up.”

Hmmm, if I remember correctly a criminal was caught when DNA from the crime scene was tested against a British database. A partial match was found with his brother’s DNA. That led to their testing his DNA. Bingo. Good work guys.


Bob Badour said at June 5, 2004 6:50 PM:

I find it important to note that the founding fathers of the United State, who showed every evidence of being intelligent learned men engaged in sober thought and debate, granted no right to privacy in the constitution or in the bill of rights. Quite the opposite: They entrenched rights to publicity.

I find it absurd to prohibit passive observation of publicly available evidence. It boggles my mind that anyone could ever be so stupid--let alone that so many could be so stupid. "Nope, the police were wrong to investigate the suspicious character at the entrance to the liquor store. They violated his privacy." Never mind he and his friends were robbing the place.

Why do you need to know? said at June 5, 2004 10:44 PM:

"More accurate information analyzed in more sophisticated ways will reduce government error rates. Governments convict wrong people when they can't find the real culprits. Allow them to more accurately identify the guilty and they will be less likely to falsely accuse the innocent."

"DNA evidence: Well, imagine that the government had DNA sequences on everyone in a central database. Then when a DNA sample was found at a crime scene the likelihood that a real criminal would be arrested and jailed for that crime would go up."

A crafty lawyer can always cast doubt on the DNA, as the OJ case demonstrated. But consider again the situation of the Oregon lawyer sent to prison for 2 weeks because the FBI did not accurately match his fingerprint. The lawyer's fingerprint was in the government's fingerprint database because he had served in the military. Yet the FBI erroneously matched a partial fingerprint provided by Spain, with the lawyer's print. How was this possible? It's said that the FBI was certain of the match, even after doubts were expressed by the Spaniards, which the FBI initially ignored. It's not as though fingerprint matching is a new technology. Yet as the FBI was eventually forced to admit, they were wrong. Could the FBI's mistake have been influenced by the lawyer's association with Muslim groups? The point is that technology alone will not make us safer. There is always a human behind the technology who can screw up. Unless you can provide a way to eliminate the human errors (or outright deceit) involved with interpreting the results of data mining or DNA/fingerprint matching, mistakes will be made and innocent people will be accused. Since data mining would presumably involve looking at the activities of all citizens, and not just those suspected of committing crimes, the chances for innocent people to be falsely accused would logically be greater than if data mining were restricted to suspects only.

"Prove to me that government data mining would be more likely to finger the innocent than current investigation techniques. I expect the opposite will be the case."

See above. Consider also the old Dragnet TV show. When a crime was committed, the victim would be taken "downtown" and asked to pour through mugshot books to identity potential perpetrators. Now if your picture happened to be in one of those mugshot books, you'd have a higher chance of being fingered (even if you were innocent) than if your picture wasn't in the book at all. Data mining of all citizens (not just those suspected of crimes) is equivalent to putting some type of picture of everyone in the mugshot book. Your chances of being falsely accused are greater than if there's no picture of you in there at all. That's the current situation. The police essentially do not have a right to search you unless they have a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime. We do not allow the police to randomly search people, looking for any evidence that a person has committed some crime. Yet that is what data mining seems to be about.

"I also agree that mistakes will be made and innocents will suffer. Innocents also suffer when criminals are free to prey."

So if I understand you correctly, you would favor a situation wherein the government could secretly monitor everyone's activities and develop profiles of each person that could help to predict that person's liklihood of committing a crime. Those persons with suspicious profiles could then be investigated further by the police. I believe that is called Big Brother and is not what most Americans would find to be palatable. The overwhelming opposition to national ID cards, whether justified or not, says that most Americans value their privacy and are suspicious about the government's ability to monitor their activities.

"I don’t believe that is true. The President has less power than you seem to imagine."

Wrong. You are apparently unfamiliar with the case of Jose Padilla, an American citizen born in Brooklyn, NY. Padilla was arrested in Chicago in 2002, and accused of plotting to commit terrorist acts. The President then declared him an enemy combatant, and Padilla was sent to a military brig. He has never been formally accused of a crime, and he has never been put on trial.

"Before 911 I’d have said we had an acceptable balance of police powers and citizen security. Now we are at war with a ruthless enemy. The balance has shifted. I am much less concerned that my government watches me (or might mistake me for a criminal) than I am that a terrorist network will operate unhindered."

You might recall Benjamin Franklin's famous quote: 'They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.' But does the government really have to watch you to prevent future terrorism? It has been noted that there were plenty of warning signs that terrorists were about to strike on 9/11, and these were not acted upon by the proper authorities. So it wasn't a lack of information that caused 9/11, just a failure to react. We do not need to begin spying on ordinary Americans to prevent terrorism.

"On different topic I find it absurd that people worry about the government invading their privacy when very little is done about identity theft. I’d give up more of my privacy to the government in order to prevent a criminal from using my personal info to commit crimes or rob me."

You don't have to give up your privacy to the government to prevent identity theft. Identity theft happens mostly because banks and other credit grantors do not bother to make sure that people applying for new credit cards and other accounts are really who they say they are. If they wanted to, there are ways it could be done.

"I find it absurd to prohibit passive observation of publicly available evidence."

I don't believe it is the observation of 'publicly available' evidence that's really the issue. Rather, it's the idea that the government should be able to monitor your financial transactions, web surfing habits, emails, videos rented, books purchased, etc. This is not 'publicly available evidence' in the same sense as the behavior of suspicious characters at the liquor store would be.

Randall Parker said at June 5, 2004 11:32 PM:

Paranoid guy who apparently thinks posting under a pseudonym helps him somehow,

Do you think the police make more or less mistakes on average since fingerprint analysis was introduced?

Do you think the police make more or less mistakes on average since DNA typing was introduced?

The OJ jury: That had little to do with the craftiness of the lawyer and a great deal to do with a black jury refusing to send a famous black idol to jail for killing a white woman. Juries sometimes intentionally refuse to see the truth. Is this an argument against using DNA evidence at trial?

You say:

The point is that technology alone will not make us safer.

I fail to see how this is an argument against using technology. Plus, it is not even correct. If we introduce more technology error rates will drop. Fingerprints reduced error rates. DNA analysis, hidden cameras that record what a criminal really looked like, and various other technologies have allowed police to narrow suspect lists, rule out otherwise highly suspected people, and generally make the job of finding criminals less error prone.

Do you really think the net result of mugshot books has been to send more innocents to jail? I don't dount that innocents have incorrectly been fingered by mugshot books. Just being in the books does mark one. Still, I think those books have made policing more accurate on average.

But if mugshot books are a big stigma that increases the likelihood someone will be falsely accused isn't it better to instead have everyone in a master picture database so that the mere presence of someone in a set of pictures is not evidence of previous run-ins with the law? If the person looking at all the pictures knows that the vast bulk of the people being looked at are innocent then doesn't that eliminate the bias that person would feel if looking at an ex-con mugshot book?

You say:

Since data mining would presumably involve looking at the activities of all citizens, and not just those suspected of committing crimes, the chances for innocent people to be falsely accused would logically be greater than if data mining were restricted to suspects only.

But how does someone become a suspect in the first place? Don't totally innocent people become suspects every day? Don't police frequently have long suspect lists for a single crime? Police have incomplete information and just frequently wrong intuitions to go on.

Why do you need to know? said at June 6, 2004 8:38 AM:

"Paranoid guy who apparently thinks posting under a pseudonym helps him somehow"

Maybe I'm Condoleeza Rice, and I don't want to get into trouble with my boss. (Just kidding, Condi. Heh, heh). But seriously, of what relevance is it to this discussion what my name is? My real name may be important for some things (like opening credit card accounts), but for the purposes of this blog it is nothing more than a label. And how would you know that the name I provide is my real name? Anybody can provide any name they want, and there's no way you can verify it, Randall Parker (if that's your real name).

You may want to start a new blog on the subject of anonymity in our society. If I go into a supermarket and choose to pay with cash instead of using a credit card (so the purchases can be traced back to me), would you accuse me of being paranoid?

"Do you think the police make more or less mistakes on average since fingerprint/DNA analysis was introduced?"

I don't doubt for a minute that overall, we're better off with these technologies, and that they have aided in catching criminals and exonerating those falsely accused. But you haven't responded to my point about the Oregon lawyer. How did the FBI mess that one up? My guess is that they used the print provided by the Spaniards, and narrowed the field down to some number of candidates. They then did more checking, and found out that the lawyer had ties with Islamic organizations. They then put their blinders on, and automatically assumed they had their man. Which proves my point: Technology alone won't make us safe. It's how those technologies are used, and the assumptions that are made in how the results are interpreted, that is the problem.

"But if mugshot books are a big stigma that increases the likelihood someone will be falsely accused isn't it better to instead have everyone in a master picture database so that the mere presence of someone in a set of pictures is not evidence of previous run-ins with the law?"

No. The only result of putting everyone in the mugshot book is that the likelihood will be less that any given individual (whether innocent or guilty) will be fingered, because of the sheer numbers of mugshots that would have to be examined.

"But how does someone become a suspect in the first place? Don't totally innocent people become suspects every day? Don't police frequently have long suspect lists for a single crime? Police have incomplete information and just frequently wrong intuitions to go on."

Well, I can tell you how people DO NOT become suspects. They don't become suspects because the police have free license to rummage through the details of our lives, and then pick and choose those of us who might look "suspicious." I'm sure that most people become suspects because, in the process of investigating the crime, the police uncover some piece of information that points to a particular individual. Sure, mistakes are made. But you have not adequately considered how many mistakes would be made if the government is given the broad surveillance powers you favor.

Face it. What you and Heather MacDonald want to do would not be supported by the majority of the American people. This is not a liberal versus conservative issue. I'll bet there are plenty of conservatives, such as Bob Barr and Dick Armey (who are both working with the ACLU on privacy issues) who would probably agree with me.

Randall Parker said at June 6, 2004 10:23 AM:

Responding on the Oregon lawyer: I think my argument addresses this case but let me make it clear: Yes, there are error rates in any system. But suppose two systems:

1) No one is fingerprinted except convicted criminals.

2) Everyone is fingerprinted.

Then a crime is committed. My argument is that on average under the second scenario the ability to match fingerprints will lead to the identification of the real perpetrators more reliably than in the first scenario and that fewer innocents will be fingered as guilty in the second scenario.

The reason for this is simple: With everyone fingerprinted if there is a real match it is extremely likely will be found. If there is a false match then it is extremely likely two matches will be found. Also, if there is a false match the victim could be allowed to ask for a second search. Also, with a comprehensive database most false positives are going to be noticed anyhow. Suppose a fingerprint matches someone to a bank robbery. The odds are that the match will be for a place nowhere near where someone lives and that it would have been impossible for the person to have done the crime.

In fact, a comprehensive database would allow us to more accurately measure the false positive match rate and to then improve the matching technology. More information results in a better process.

Your argument is that of the police know less then there will be fewer innocent suspects. But my argument is that if they know more they will be able to find the real criminal more often and will therefore consider innocents as serious suspects as often as they do now.

Fly said at June 6, 2004 11:14 PM:

WhoDoYouNeedToKnow,

“Jose Padilla”

Hmmm, interesting case. At first I thought you were talking about the Saudi national picked up in Afghanistan. Seems he was born in the US while his parents were working here. He left the US as an infant but by common US legal interpretation he is a dual citizen.

So I agree Padilla is a US citizen being held without trial in a military detention facility. As his case is being reviewed by the US Supreme Court it doesn’t support your contention that the President can arrest and incarcerate anyone he chooses. I hope the Supreme Court rules that in cases of National Security some rights may be abridged.

You stated, ““We live in an era in which the President of the United States can, without question, designate any American citizen as an enemy combatant, and hold that person indefinitely without even charging that person with a crime and allowing him to defend himself.”

Certainly the President is being questioned in the Padilla case. Furthermore Padilla hardly qualifies as “any American citizen”.


I don’t really care what the Founders of our country thought. Or what platitude Franklin spoke. Our constitution and laws are always being reinterpreted to reflect contemporary beliefs, morals, and issues. However I do care that our government operate under due process. The system has to be more important than the current government or the people who enforce the laws. So we do need strong checks on abuse of power.

I feel we are at war. In this war our enemy is using our freedoms and tolerance against us. I expect the war to get even more ugly. I’d rather we give up some privacy now and empower our government to employ high tech information searches and terrorist modeling to detect and monitor potential terrorists.

Yes, innocents will be falsely accused. Yes, some people will face unwarranted scrutiny. I don’t believe ideal solutions exist. Any method that detects potential terrorists will occasionally throw false suspicion. So we need feedback and monitoring so no more damage is done than necessary.

WhoDoYouNeedToKnow, what is your proposal for detecting and removing terrorists cells in the US?


Randall, I agree with WhoDoYouNeedToKnow concerning anonymous posting. I disagree with him on most issues but he is engaging in reasoned discourse and not acting as a troll.

I believe that tools such as Google will allow anyone to search out our musing and use our own words against us. I see it happening to our politicians in the big media. Quotes out-of-context, partial quotes to change the meaning, quotes of offhand comments. If a jerk is losing an argument then he googles your name and looks for some connection to tarnish you. Did you ever post in anger? Ever make a thoughtless comment. All part of the public record. I don’t want to make it too easy.

Randall Parker said at June 6, 2004 11:49 PM:

Fly, I don't have a problem with people trying to hide their real identities if there is a need to do so. I know people who I encourage to stay pseudonymous. It is just that he made his pseudonym "Why do you need to know" implying that I somehow think I do need to know. Wrong. Or that I am even interested. Wrong. I was responding to his attitude.

Quotes out of context and all that: Look, there are people out there who definitely need to hide their identity. Le Griffe Du Lion and Godless Capitalist certainly do given what I can guess as far as their work affiliations. I suspect Robert Musil does too. But some people are just plain paranoid. This shows up in their views on other subjects.

Marxist psychiatrist Hugh Drummond opined years ago that at least for some paranoics the fear that the government is watching them is a demonstration of their need to feel important - that they are important enough for the government to care about them one way or another. Most of us aren't. Of course some paranoics are that way due to organic defects in their brains. But some sorts of intellectual paranoia are obviously just fantasies that have gotten out of hand.

As for platitudes from America's political founders: They were far more reasonable and empirical men than the people who have tried to take their statements out of context (aside joke: though if Franklin was going to be quoted out out context perhaps Franklin should have published more under pseudonyms as Jay, Hamilton and Madison did as Publius - though Franklin did play Little Richard) and turn them into ideologies. I think those guys would have looked at terrorism, WMD proliferation, and other problems and been pretty flexible about how to deal with them.

It is worth noting that the Scottish Enlightenment school of political philosophy which had so influenced them was probably the most empirical of any. When Jefferson was in Paris and sending history books on ancient republics to Madison it was because they both believed they needed to examine the empirical evidence of the past to discover what worked and what didn't. They did not believe that a few high sounding principles formed a sufficient basis for coming up with rules for good government.

I would also note what Justice Robert Jackson famously opined in the 1949 Supreme Court case of Terminiello v. Chicago:

There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.
Fly said at June 7, 2004 12:21 PM:

Randall,

“I think those guys would have looked at terrorism, WMD proliferation, and other problems and been pretty flexible about how to deal with them.”

I respect our Founders. I believe that if they were fully knowledgeable of our modern world they’d make very valuable consultants. More than two hundred years separate their world and moral view from our own so I’d listen to them but likely follow a different path. (Women had few rights. Of course most men only had the right to work from dawn ‘til dusk doing backbreaking farm work. Such a different life they lived.)

I agree our Forefathers would take a “flexible” and harsh approach to terrorists and enemies. Likely they would have us annex Canada and Mexico to secure our borders. Times have changed.


More on platitudes…I like a pithy phrase that summarizes deeper analysis. I dislike having a quote tossed out without the analysis or its context. Such a quote becomes an “argument by authority” rather than an argument by reason. (Hence my short, irritated response to Toot.)


“There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”

This seems so obvious to me that I have difficulty understanding those who say the US can’t do something because it wouldn’t be constitutional. In times of war, as a country we’ll do whatever we have to do and afterwards we’ll try to put the pieces back together again. If our leaders break our laws or trample on common values then they will be tried in the public media court. If the country disagrees with their actions they will be impeached or discharged and likely face prosecution. (The country supported detaining US-Japanese citizens and the fire bombing of Dresden and the nuking of Japan. So there was no chance our leaders would face charges of abusing citizen rights or deliberately targeting enemy civilians.)

Fly said at June 7, 2004 1:29 PM:

Whoops, I forgot who I was talking about. "WhyDoYouWantToKnow", not "Toot". Darn anonymous posters. Hehe.

Heather Mac Donald said at June 7, 2004 2:09 PM:

“Why do you need to know?’s” arguments against data mining veer between the wildly overbroad and the empirically uninformed. His “no mistakes” standard (“Prove to me that only the truly bad guys would be snared by data mining”) would eliminate all criminal investigations. It is impossible to guarantee that any investigative technique will never produce false positives. The question is: what is the likely rate of false positives? That is an empirical question that no one at the moment can answer. And if the technophobes have their way and ban all future work on anti-terror data mining, we will never find out.
“Why” assumes that any list of leads generated by data mining will automatically result in the listees’ being thrown in the clinker. That is hardly how the process would work. Data mining would serve only as a preliminary intelligence tool to generate leads for further investigation. To be convicted or preemptively detained as a terror suspect would require considerable additional proof. “Why” offers no argument as to why a lead generated by data mining would be any more likely to result in a false conviction than a lead generated by a tip or by canvassing a neighborhood.
Like many libertarians of the right and left, “Why” thinks that the government should always already know who the bad guys are and confine its investigations to them. (“Data mining looks at all citizens and not just those suspected of committing crimes.” Data mining should be “restricted to suspects only.”) He doesn’t explain, however, how law enforcement is supposed to get to those suspects without first casting a broader net. If a murder is committed in a neighborhood and no leads emerge, a detective will likely question everyone he can in the neighborhood and rule out no one as a possible suspect until further evidence develops. What is “Why’s” alternative method of investigation? Waiting around for the murderer to turn himself in?
Charging that the proponents of data mining research are simply saying: “’Trust the government’” is a red herring. No one is advocating blind trust in the government. Computer analysis supporters argue for safeguards against the technology’s misuse, such as strong audit trails and data anonymization. But if the mere possibility of abuse should kill any grant of power to government, then we should have no government.
Opponents of data mining personalize computers. A computer has no capacity to spy on you; it has no idea what it is reading in a data bank. No one’s privacy is violated by being contained in a data bank that a computer is legitimately scanning for significant patterns. Can the human interpreter misdirect a computer search for non-authorized purposes? Yes. That is what oversight and accountability mechanisms are designed to prevent.
Libertarian hysterics focus myopically on a single threat: the possibility that the government will overreach. They have nothing to say about the other threats facing our country, such as catastrophic attack by Islamic madmen. But any rational approach to risk will balance the chance that anti-terror data mining will be abused or misfire against its potential success in fingering the bad guys and the evil it seeks to avert. If data mining had a zero false negative rate, say, in identifying nuclear bombers, and the potential loss of life from a suitcase bomb reached into the millions, only a blind zealot would prohibit its deployment for fear that it may result in false positives or may be misused. Again, how successful data mining may be in identifying terrorists is an empirical question that can only be answered with further research. It is irresponsible to prematurely ban that research before finding out what the technology’s capacities are.

Randall Parker said at June 7, 2004 2:36 PM:

ParaPundit note: That really is Heather Mac Donald writing the previous comment. I have corresponded with her on this subject and made her aware of my posts and the discussion that followed. She sent me the same message as she posted above.

Thanks Heather.

Why do you need to know? said at June 8, 2004 7:03 AM:

“So I agree Padilla is a US citizen being held without trial in a military detention facility. As his case is being reviewed by the US Supreme Court it doesn’t support your contention that the President can arrest and incarcerate anyone he chooses. I hope the Supreme Court rules that in cases of National Security some rights may be abridged.”

The Supreme Court is only reviewing this because those of us who care about civil liberties are demanding it. Until the Court rules otherwise, the president apparently does have this ability.

“I do care that our government operate under due process.”

Do you really? The Constitution guarantees that ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.’ If the government believes that Padilla is a terrorist, the Constitution demands that the evidence be presented, and that Padilla be put on trial. But you apparently believe that the president should be able to decide for himself that some crimes are so heinous that the Constitution may be summarily suspended in those cases, and that the president may indefinitely imprison those that he alone decides are guilty. If that is what you believe, then I’m sorry, but you don’t care about due process. The Constitution exists to make sure that justice extends even to the most unpopular among us. That is not to defend Padilla, but simply to ensure that those among us who may be unpopular for whatever reason cannot simply be rounded up and imprisoned indefinitely at the whim of the Chief Executive, as the Japanese Americans were during WWII.

“I feel we are at war. In this war our enemy is using our freedoms and tolerance against us. I expect the war to get even more ugly. I’d rather we give up some privacy now and empower our government to employ high tech information searches and terrorist modeling to detect and monitor potential terrorists.”

“This seems so obvious to me that I have difficulty understanding those who say the US can’t do something because it wouldn’t be constitutional. In times of war, as a country we’ll do whatever we have to do and afterwards we’ll try to put the pieces back together again.”

Afterwards? Who says there will be an “afterwards”? The “war on terror” will be never-ending. So think carefully about which liberties you value, and which you are willing to give up. Because once you give them up, you won’t get them back.

“What is your proposal for detecting and removing terrorists cells in the US?”

Guess what? I don’t have one. Like you, I’m hoping that the government knows what it’s doing, and will act in our best interests to protect us from the terrorist threat. However, unlike you, I’m not willing to sacrifice basic freedoms for this “security.” And I say “security” because I’m increasingly pessimistic that the government will be able to deliver. As I have already pointed out, 9/11 was preceded by numerous warning signs that were ignored. It wasn’t necessary to have a massive surveillance system to “connect the dots”. Some of the terrorists were already on watch lists, yet they used their own names in entering the country and were not apprehended. An FBI agent in Arizona reported on suspicious Arabs taking flying lessons, and not caring about how to land. Yet his warnings were ignored, and nothing was done. Others were issued photo ID driver’s licenses in their own names, even though they didn’t qualify for such licenses. And how did those box cutters get on the planes? Etcetera. So before we start figuring out ways to spy on ordinary Americans, how about we fix the inefficiencies in our current systems and pay more attention to the information we already have?

“The question is: what is the likely rate of false positives? That is an empirical question that no one at the moment can answer. And if the technophobes have their way and ban all future work on anti-terror data mining, we will never find out.”

There will obviously be false positives. But the real question is, how will the government deal with them? A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in March 2004 says the following: ‘If data mining and automated data analysis are used correctly as a “power tools” for analysts and investigators—a way to conduct low-level tasks that will provide clues to assist analysts and investigators—false positives are less dangerous. Data-mining results will then lead only to more analysis or investigation, and false positives can be discovered before there are significant negative consequences for the individual. But the stakes are so high when fighting catastrophic terrorism that there will be great temptation for the government to use these techniques as more than an analytical tool. Government actors will want to take action based on the results of data-analysis queries alone. This action could include detention, arrest, or denial of a benefit. Even if the government later corrects its mistake, the damage to reputation could already be done, with longer term negative consequences for the individual. Even when an error is identified, there may be difficulties correcting it. There are often inadequate procedures for correcting watch lists or other similar information. Systems that provide citizens the chance for redress of this kind of error either do not exist or are extremely difficult to use. In addition, if the false positive search results have been disseminated to other databases, they will be difficult to locate and correct. Although the technology exists to follow inaccurate data and correct cascading occurrences, it has not been a priority, and its implementation lags far behind the technology for collecting and analyzing data.’

You are all so confident that large-scale surveillance of ordinary Americans will be accompanied by adequate safeguards and the means to rectify mistakes. This is another example of ‘trust the government’. I see no basis for such confidence. And what even makes you think that massive government surveillance of all Americans will actually stop future terrorist acts? These are ruthless, determined people who are willing to die for their cause. They will find ways to evade this.

“He doesn’t explain, however, how law enforcement is supposed to get to those suspects without first casting a broader net. If a murder is committed in a neighborhood and no leads emerge, a detective will likely question everyone he can in the neighborhood and rule out no one as a possible suspect until further evidence develops.”

When a detective questions everyone he can in a neighborhood to uncover suspects, he does not presume that each person questioned is a suspect. He is simply looking for information that will point to a suspect. That is a far cry from what you want to do, which would be to allow the detective to have unfettered access to the detailed private lives of each person in the neighborhood, so that the detective can predetermine the most likely suspects. As I have already pointed out, in this country the police must first have a reason to suspect someone before they’re allowed to conduct a search. Except of course that the Patriot Act allows the FBI to search this information merely by asserting that it is part of an ongoing security investigation. And if you are asked for this information and then tell the person being investigated about it, you yourself become a criminal. Amazing. This is yet another example of the surrender of individual liberties to the ‘war on terror’.

“Libertarian hysterics focus myopically on a single threat: the possibility that the government will overreach. They have nothing to say about the other threats facing our country, such as catastrophic attack by Islamic madmen. But any rational approach to risk will balance the chance that anti-terror data mining will be abused or misfire against its potential success in fingering the bad guys and the evil it seeks to avert.”

I do not believe that you have seriously considered what those tradeoffs would be. You simply believe that the government should study the issue, and will make the right choices. And when civil libertarians insist in having some say in the matter, you label us as hysterics.

And by the way, how would you even program your data mining system to pick out potential terrorists? All you could tell it would be known MOs of previous terrorist attacks. I don't see how you will anticipate behaviors that will point to future types of terrorist activities that have not yet been envisioned. You will simply be making guesses, and probably identifying lots of false positives in the general population, and missing the unanticipated types of attacks.

This whole debate comes down to this: how many of our cherished freedoms are we willing to give up for the illusion of security? Some of you seem to have a blind faith that technology alone can protect us, and that the government will not abuse its powers in ‘protecting’ us. I’d like to believe that also, but history tells a different story.

I am not opposed to some degree of data mining. But it needs to be done in a focused way, with adequate safeguards, and not merely applied across the board to all Americans in some sort of free-for-all witchhunt for bad guys. It is only through the oversight of civil libertarians and other government watchdogs that it should be attempted at all.

Fly said at June 8, 2004 10:01 AM:

WhatDoYouNeedToKnow,

“But you apparently believe that the president should be able to decide for himself that some crimes are so heinous that the Constitution may be summarily suspended in those cases, and that the president may indefinitely imprison those that he alone decides are guilty. If that is what you believe, then I’m sorry, but you don’t care about due process.”

I don’t believe the President “decides for himself” or “he alone decides are guilty”. I believe he has national security advisors and legal advisors. I’ve seen no evidence that the decision was made in an arbitrary manner or to further a political agenda. The fact that we are discussing this matter shows that auditing processes are at work.

I will determine for myself whether I, “don’t care about due process”.

“That is not to defend Padilla, but simply to ensure that those among us who may be unpopular for whatever reason cannot simply be rounded up and imprisoned indefinitely at the whim of the Chief Executive, as the Japanese Americans were during WWII.”

This is an incorrect characterization of the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII. The President ordered the internment based on strong intelligence that the Japanese American population was heavily infiltrated with Japanese sympathizers. Intelligence intercepts showed orders were given to begin sabotage operations in California. I believe the US government was correct to take this step.

The US government failed in the aftermath of the war. The Japanese American citizens should have quickly had their property restored and been given some restitution to help them settle back into American society. Given the extreme hostility to Japan at time I understand why this did not occur. War is heck and innocents suffer.

(WhatDoYouNeedToKnow, referring to this decision as a “whim” indicates either a serious lack of historical knowledge or little desire to engage in honest discussion.)


“Afterwards? Who says there will be an “afterwards”? The “war on terror” will be never-ending. So think carefully about which liberties you value, and which you are willing to give up. Because once you give them up, you won’t get them back.”

The WoT will be long but I expect the major battles to be fought within the next five years. I see two likely scenarios.

If the war goes well, the governments in N. Korea and Iran will fall. The governments in the ME will reform their schools and mosques to curtail incitement and will institue processes leading to democracy.

If the war goes poorly, terrorists will escalate worldwide attacks and eventually use WMDs. Once 100,000 to one million Americans die, the US will respond either with direct nuke attacks on major Muslim cities or will provide an ultimatum to surrender control of their societies or face immediate nuclear attacks. (In this scenario, liberal American democracy also fails and the world becomes truly ugly.)

Or something else will happen. Maybe aliens will save us. Or an astroid will interrupt our family squabbles. Or a gray goo of nanobots will assimilate us. Who knows?

Once the most dangerous phase of the WoT is past, I expect the balance will again shift from security to personal rights as it has after every other war.


“I have already pointed out, 9/11 was preceded by numerous warning signs that were ignored.”

Before 911, the balance between personal rights and security was shifted strongly to the left. This was natural as our leaders grew up during the Nixon years. A structural wall was placed between domestic security agencies and foreign services. This was done so that the CIA and NSA would never be used against US citizens. Steps are being taken to break down the internal barriers and integrate our local police, domestic security, and foreign services. One major part of that integration process is the information technology that is the topic of this discussion.

“Although the technology exists to follow inaccurate data and correct cascading occurrences, it has not been a priority, and its implementation lags far behind the technology for collecting and analyzing data.”

Here is where you and I could agree. Rather than stop a program needed for the security of the US, lets work together to make it the best program it can be. Lets make certain that steps are in place to quickly detect and correct problems.


“And by the way, how would you even program your data mining system to pick out potential terrorists? All you could tell it would be known MOs of previous terrorist attacks. I don't see how you will anticipate behaviors that will point to future types of terrorist activities that have not yet been envisioned. You will simply be making guesses, and probably identifying lots of false positives in the general population, and missing the unanticipated types of attacks.”

So help us. I made my career solving difficult problems that no one knew how to solve. My first attempts were seldom successful. I like solving problems. What solutions do you have for data mining to detect terrorist activity? The Internet is an incredible problem-solving engine. If you have a good idea, it may be picked up, spread, and become part of the solution. (I’m guessing the NSA has already looked through all the TV, movie, and book scripts for potential methods of attack. I know of a government contract for a telecommunications infra structure threat analysis. A friend bid on it. He lost. Sigh.)

cutters said at June 8, 2004 10:18 AM:

Government censorship of any kind is scary. This IS censorship and has the possiblity of substantial abuse. To do it in the name of national security reminds me of the Big Brother movies of the 50's and 60's.

Bob Badour said at June 8, 2004 6:12 PM:

Let me summarize what I got out of the last few posts:

The due process currently underway at the highest levels of the judicial branch is not evidence of a system to protect the rights of Americans but only a reaction to vocal paranoiacs.

You prefer to quietly succumb to terrorism and external threat than to see the US prosecute an effective war of defense.

You are not satisfied with any means to protect your security and you have no suggestions to offer on how else to proceed.

Uh huh, okay....


Post a comment
Comments:
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
URL:
Remember info?

      
 
Web parapundit.com
Go Read More Posts On ParaPundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©