Sunday, May 14, 2006

Some Operational Pitfalls Of Relying On Data Mining

One of the founders of Wired Magazine--techie extraordinaire--Simson L. Garfinkel of Harvard looks at the latest revelation coming from the broader extra-legal NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, the data mining of the call records of nearly all Americans in the name of keeping us "safe" from "terror."

Garfinkel shows how the effort can be a wild goose chase of an extremely wasteful kind.

Some cogent points:

(T)he real danger of this kind of unrestricted data mining isn't "false positives" -- that is, associations that don't really exist -- but meaningless positives. Investigating all of these positives takes time and money. And if the investigations are not done correctly, innocent lives can be ruined in the process. A principle of American jurisprudence is that it is better for a guilty person to go free than for an innocent person to be imprisoned. How will our society react to a system that requires many people to be investigated because only one of them might be a terrorist?...

Ultimately, (this) may be the greatest dilemma for those involved in collecting and mining data: What information does one not need to collect, and when is it safe to throw away a piece of data? It's human nature to hold on to information as long as possible -- once you eliminate it, you can't always get it back. And even if you could keep everything forever, would you want to? The cost of storing and protecting data is high. The more information you have, the more difficult it is to search and cross-reference it, which means you must spend more on computer systems. And perhaps the most insidious side effect of all: After spending all the money and effort to collect, keep and protect data, it is hard not to develop that nagging feeling that you really should be putting it to use.


Blogger DrewL said...

I guess one could say that an idle database is the devil's workshop. And if Cheney isn't a close proxy for the dark prince, I don't know who is.

5/14/2006 11:33 PM  
Blogger Meatball One said...

"an idle database is the devil's workshop"

My God man, where is it all coming from?

Another trés excellent comment per poetic sumary. First the Dubya line and now this.

God damn.

5/15/2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


I agree with M1 about the worthiness of your database line.

Nobody builds a tool that they don't intend to use.

5/15/2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


DrewL is a smart cookie.

5/15/2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger DrewL said...

Speaking of databases, I found today's statement by Verizon to be quite interesting. While claiming to neither acknowledge nor deny their involvement with the NSA's program, they went on to effectively deny that the operating companies they owned between 9/11 and 4 months ago were involved.

Hmmmm. Well, reading between the lines, I'd say they effectively are acknowledging that MCI was involved. After all, they just closed their acquisition of MCI about 4 months ago.


5/16/2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Good observation.

MCI would certainly have been up to the nads in the program. It kinda makes me wonder about Bernie Ebber's prosecution. Might he have decided to blow the whistle or maybe just stop MCI's participation?

Maybe the whole house of cards at MCI was toppled in order to get someone (Verizon) in there who would do the govts bidding.

Also, pay no attention to the Bell South bullshittery about not being involved. Supposedly, only a handful of people at each company was fully read into the program. That's why their "internal investigation" has found "no evidence" of their involvement.

And in order to protect the current stockholders' stake, any complicit telecoms would have to lie in order to protect themselves from possible financial damages from participating in the NSA program.

5/17/2006 12:12 AM  
Blogger DrewL said...

Yeah, I don't think any of them will admit to anything without some guarantee of full civil and criminal immunity. Unlikely that our current DoJ would capitulate on that front since they're probably up to their a-holes in complicity on some of this stuff, at least a certain high ranking DoJ mucky-muck whose last name starts with a G and ends in Z.

5/17/2006 11:15 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


The president has authorized the telecoms to lie about this matter, in direct contravention of SEC rules on what companies can get away with in public statements.

New Presidential Memorandum Permits Intelligence Director To Authorize Telcos To Lie Without Violating Securities Law

A presidential memorandum signed by the President on May 5 allows the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, to authorize a company to conceal activities related to national security. (See 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A))

This is how the telecoms have their cake and are able to eat it too.

5/18/2006 8:48 AM  

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