"data sharing" entries

Predictive analytics and data sharing raise civil liberties concerns

Expanded rules for data sharing in the U.S. government will need more oversight as predictive algorithms are applied.

Last winter, around the same time there was a huge row in Congress over the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), U.S. Attorney General Holder quietly signed off on expanded rules on government data sharing. The rules allowed the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), housed within the Department of Homeland Security, to analyze the regulatory data collected during the business of government for patterns relevant to domestic terrorist threats.

Julia Angwin, who reported the story for the Wall Street Journal, highlighted the key tension: the rules allow the NCTC to “examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them.” 

On the one hand, this is a natural application of big data: search existing government records collected about citizens for suspicious patterns of behavior. The action can be justified for counter-terrorism purposes: there are advanced persistent threats. (When national security is invoked, privacy concerns are often deprecated.) The failure to "connect the dots" using existing data across government on Christmas Day 2009 (remember the so-called "underwear bomber?") added impetus to getting more data in the NCTC’s hands. It’s possible that the rules on data retention were extended five years because the agency didn’t have the capabilities it needed. Data mining existing records offers unprecedented opportunities to find and detect terrorism plots before they happen.

On the other hand, the changes at the NCTC that were authorized back in March 2012 represent a massive data grab with far-reaching consequences. The changes received little public discussion prior to the WSJ breaking the story, and they seem to substantially override the purpose of the Federal Privacy Act that Congress passed in 1974. Extension of the rules happened without public debate because of what effectively amounts to a legal loophole. Post proposed changes to the Federal Register, voila. Effectively, this looks like an end run around the Federal Privacy Act. Read more…

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