Sunday, February 26, 2006

Data Mining by Big Brother: A Primer

Talk Left has published a model of journalistic excellence in blogging, a comprehensive survey of data mining applications by official agencies of the government. An ever-improving capability of the private sector to sift through unbelievable volumes of generic information for the purpose of improving services or products has political implications and applications of which the vast majority of our democratically elected form of government are unaware.

Hold that thought as you go wading through this link. It is easy to forget which forest you are in because the trees are so interesting. We are about to travel from the private sector forest into the government sector. The dynamic of rewards and punishments for the two is very different. In the private sector, rewards and punishments can be measured in dollars. But in the government sector, euphemistically called the public sector, the rewards are less managable on a spreadsheet. The metric here becomes a toxic mix of power, taxes, votes, and political planning with a very different agenda than the bottom line of a balance sheet.

Whatever the outcome of Bush's warrantless NSA surveillance program, it seems clear that government surveillance of our communications and even our social networks is only going to increase. The New York Times reports on recent "shopping trips" by NSA officials to Silicon Valley to purchase new data-mining tools.

There follows not only a quick look at the Times article, but a spate of additional links that underscore the point.

I think it's time we all learned more about data-mining and the warrantless spying the Government is conducting on Americans. Here are some links to get you started:
NSA Warrantless Domestic Surveillance page
Eavesdropping 101: What the NSA Can Do.
U.S. Intelligence and Security Agencies
Declassified NSA Documents

I very much agree. This is more reading than I can manage at one sitting, but at a glance I find it as critical to my personal interests as records from my bank, doctor or termite inspector. The difference, of course, is that if I don't like any of those people I can go looking for a replacement. In the case of Big Brother, I can't.

I pointed out to my children once that if they were my employees they could be fired, but since they were part of the family I couldn't fire them. I am part of them and they are part of me. That is the difference between the public sector and the private sector. We think we are in the private sector because we can move from one place to another. And we can. But when it comes to the public sector we are all in this thing together. Anyone who wants to disregard that reality does so at my peril as well.

To repeat: It's time we all learned more about data-mining and the warrantless spying the Government is conducting on Americans.

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