Data-Mining for Terrorists Not 'Feasible,' DHS-Funded Study Finds

The government should not be building predictive data-mining programs systems that attempt to figure out who among millions is a terrorist, a privacy and terrorism commission funded by Homeland Security reported Tuesday. The commission found that the technology would not work and the inevitable mistakes would be un-American.

The committee, created by the National Research Council in 2005, also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of technology designed to decide from afar whether a person had terrorist intents, saying false positives could quickly lead to privacy invasions.

"Automated identification of terrorists through data mining (or any other known methodology) is neither feasible as an objective nor desirable as a goal of technology development efforts," the report found. "Even in well-managed programs, such tools are likely to return significant rates of false positives, especially if the tools are highly automated."

The 376-page report -- entitled "Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists" -- comes as a rebuke to the Bush administration's attempts to use high-tech surveillance and data-sifting tools to prevent another terrorist attack inside the United States.

Most memorable of these was the Total Information Awareness project, which wanted to search every possible database -- from credit card records to veterinary records -- to spot terrorists before they acted.

The controversial program was largely shuttered by Congress, but its central dream and secret progeny live on inside the government's anti-terrorism agencies.

In particular, the report continually stresses need for the government to follow the law -- a none-too-subtle reference to the government's secret warrantless wiretapping of Americans' communications.

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