The Christian Science Monitor broke a big story on its front page today, reporting that the “U.S. government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and email to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.”
“The system — parts of which are operational, parts of which are still under development — is already credited with helping to foil some plots,” the Monitor added. “It is the federal government’s latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis in the fight against terrorism. But by delving deeply into the digital minutiae of American life, the program is also raising concerns that the government is intruding too deeply into citizens’ privacy.”
Indeed; as proof of its own thesis, the Monitor’s report has left bloggers all over concerned (very, very concerned), with some shaking in their digital boots.
“Congress voted against ‘Total Information Awareness’ in September 2003 on privacy grounds, but the Bush Administration kept on going,” responds Eric Jaffa at SpeakSpeak News. “I don’t want the federal government sifting through everyone’s emails. Nor storing everyone’s emails.”
“Big Bro To Monitor Blogs, Emails, Internet Purchases?” writes Progressive Insight, wondering if the new system is “another kick to civil liberties.” Bloggers Blog (which “reports on blogging news and trends”) notes that the new Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) collection system “can check blog bursts and blog discussions to see if they are terrorists or just bloggers blogging. … The email part of ADVISE sounds like a serious invasion of privacy. There are also already tools available to search many of the publicly available blogs. If ADVISE somehow looks at private passworded blogs, that would also be very disconcerting.” (Bloggers Blog also remarks, oh so aptly, that “The blogosphere alone is full of so much information that one would suspect the government will end up investigating many useless dead ends.”)
“Domestic spying initiatives never die, they just get new acronyms,” observes Frank at Hard 7, able to find a silver lining his peers did not. “No oversight. No privacy guarantees. Massive database sweeps of our personal interactions. Well, at least it’s all being run out of the ‘new National Visualization Analytics Center in Richland.’ [Washington’s] Tri-Cities can use the jobs …”
While calling ADVISE “the son of the much-feared Total Information Awareness program,” Eric Umansky is one blogger who is, for now, “not outright opposed to these kinds of programs.” Writes Umansky: “They could, theoretically, be useful, particularly as computer power increases and algorithms improve. The problem is that as it stands right now, ‘dataveillance’ doesn’t work that well and turns up a whole lot of false positives. Which means if you’re going to do it, you better have a whole lot of safeguards and oversight. The CSM suggests that hasn’t exactly been in the cards so far.”
Christian Beckner at Homeland Security Watch also smartly adds to the discussion, drawing a connection between the Monitor story and a highly intriguing Wednesday column in which Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh notes how the core of TIA is “very quietly” still very much alive. “When read together, they reveal the paradox of the current debate about the role of data analysis: are the government’s analytical activities encroaching on personal freedoms, or are they not nearly effective enough today?” Beckner asks. “Reading these two stories, I’m struck by the fact that there’s such a wide variance in opinion about what’s wrong with our nation’s data analysis capabilities for intelligence and homeland security. Are they dangerous and conspiratorial? Or are they actually insufficient, far from where they need to be in order to improve our security?”
Beckner leans toward the latter — and, as ABC News indicates, the government’s new surveillance system, in its quest to find terrorist bloggers, will be forced into ever more heavy lifting every day — nay, every second.
“[T]he numbers are simply staggering,” reports ABC. “75,000 new blogs pop up every day, and a new one is created every second. Every hour bloggers post 50,000 new entries.”