Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists

A panel of highly distinguished statesmen and academics convened by the US National Research Council has just published a report on the efficacy of data mining in tracking down terrorist suspects. Their conclusion:

The preliminary nature of the scientific evidence, the risk of false positives, and operational vulnerability to countermeasures argue for behavioral observation and physiological monitoring being used at most as a preliminary screening method for identifying individuals who merit additional follow-up investigation. Although laboratory research and development of techniques for automated, remote detection and assessment of anomalous behavior, for example deceptive behavior, may be justified, there is not a consensus within the relevant scientific community nor on the committee regarding whether any behavioral surveillance or physiological monitoring techniques are ready for use at all in the counterterrorist context given the present state of the science.

Since data grabbing and mining has been a central focus for post-9/11 US and UK counter-terrorism policy, this is a dynamite report. The silver lining is that in these difficult financial times, the UK government could save £32bn by scrapping the Intercept Modernisation Programme (£12bn) and National Identity Register (£20bn) alone.

We clearly now need to sweep away the Database State groupthink that has infested Downing Street and the White House. If Gordon Brown and George Bush cannot achieve that, perhaps their political opponents will.

More from Ryan Singel, Cory Doctorow and Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom.

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