FBI Data Mining Program Seen as Threat to Civil Liberties

The Blotter warns of the civil liberties consequences of an FBI data mining program:

Lawmakers are questioning whether a proposed FBI anti-terrorist program is worth the price, both in taxpayer dollars and the possible loss of Americans’ privacy.

The National Security Analysis Center (NSAC) would bring together nearly 1.5 billion records created or collected by the FBI and other government agencies, a figure the FBI expects to quadruple in coming years, according to an unclassified FBI budget document obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com…

The FBI has a track record of improperly — even illegally — gathering personal information on Americans, most recently through the widespread abuse of so-called National Security Letters, the two men noted in a letter to Congress’ investigative body, the Government Accountability Office…

The FBI even wants to predict terrorist activity before it happens. Will the next step be something along the lines of Minority Report, the science fiction book and movie in which the government punishes people for crimes which it is predicted they will commit:

Of further concern to the two congressmen are the FBI’s stated hopes to “pro-actively” mine the data to find terrorists using “predictive” analysis, according to its budget request, an unproven method according to experts and even the U.S. intelligence chief’s office.

In theory, predictive analysis involves mapping a known pattern of terrorist behavior — for instance, the sequence and timing of such mundane activities as bank transactions and travel purchases — against a massive collection of such records like the NSAC databases. If an individual’s actions match the pattern, they can be considered a suspect, even if they have no known ties to any suspected terrorists or known terrorist groups.

Such a method would help identify “sleeper cells,” the FBI claims in its request — secret groups of terrorists living innocuously within the United States, waiting for a signal from a terrorist group leader to assemble and strike.

But to date the approach has not proven workable. So far, terrorism researchers “cannot readily distinguish the absolute scale of normal behaviors” for terrorists or ordinary Americans, conceded a 2006 document from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and obtained by National Journal magazine. In other words, no one can figure out how terrorists act differently from normal Americans.

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