U.S. Agencies Engaged In ‘Data Mining’

NYT — Survey Finds U.S. Agencies Engaged In ‘Data Mining’ [RSS]

A survey of federal agencies has found more than 120 programs that collect and analyze large amounts of personal data on individuals to predict their behavior.

The survey, to be issued Thursday by the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, found that the practice, known as data mining, was ubiquitous.

In canvassing federal agencies, the accounting office found that 52 were systematically sifting through computer databases. These agencies reported 199 data mining projects, of which 68 were planned and 131 were in operation. At least 122 of the 199 projects used identifying information like names, e-mail addresses, Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers.

The survey provides the first authoritative estimate of the extent of data mining by the government. It excludes most classified projects, so the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

The Defense Department made greatest use of the technique, with 47 data mining projects to track everything from the academic performance of Navy midshipmen to the whereabouts of ship parts and suspected terrorists.

Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii, who requested the report by the accounting office, said: “I am disturbed by the high number of data mining activities in the federal government involving personal information. The government collects and uses Americans’ personal information and shares it with other agencies to an astonishing degree, raising serious privacy concerns.”

That sounds rather ominous. What are they looking for, precisely?

*The Internal Revenue Service mines financial data to predict which individual tax returns have the greatest potential for fraud and which corporations are most likely to make improper use of tax shelters.

*The Defense Intelligence Agency mines data from the intelligence community and searches the Internet to identify people, including United States citizens, who are most likely to have connections to foreign terrorist activities.

*The Department of Homeland Security seeks clues to possible terrorist activity by looking for patterns in myriad records of crimes, arrests and unusual behavior, traffic tickets and incidents involving the possession of firearms.

Making sure people pay their taxes and don’t kill us? I can live with that.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    My father works for a large computer firm that has developed a data miner. He was explaining it to me as something they were promoting to the government. So I’m not surprised to hear this.

  2. colson says:

    So this explains the little visit I had from the department of homeland security webcrawler on my site…..