August 9, 2007

Can Data Mining and Predictive Modeling Really Make Us Safe?

This article which came out last summer, is particularly relevant given the discussions in recent weeks regarding the Federal Government and data-mining practices. What is data mining useful for? What is it not useful for? These are questions you may ask yourself in your own organizations and projects. There is also a useful link in this article to the comprehensive data mining report produced by the GAO on the governments data mining and predictive modeling projects.

While the scope of your projects may not include National Security concerns, it can be useful to see how others use data mining and predictive modeling techniques to model behavior and forecast future events, from purchasing a house to committing crimes.

In the post-9/11 world, there's much focus on connecting the dots. Many believe data mining is the crystal ball that will enable us to uncover future terrorist plots. But even in the most wildly optimistic projections, data mining isn't tenable for that purpose. We're not trading privacy for security; we're giving up privacy and getting no security in return.

Most people first learned about data mining in November 2002, when news broke about a massive government data mining program called Total Information Awareness. The basic idea was as audacious as it was repellent: suck up as much data as possible about everyone, sift through it with massive computers, and investigate patterns that might indicate terrorist plots.

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