$42 Million Data Mining System Scrapped

By Laura Spadanuta, assistant editor

The Department of Homeland Security's Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) program began with high hopes in 2003.

It was a comprehensive data mining system that aimed to find terrorists by sifting through information from databases, the Internet, e-mail, intelligence reports, and other sources. The system was meant to compile patterns that would then point to potential terror activity.

A report recently released to Congress by the DHS Inspector General (OIG) confirms that the ADVISE pilot programs have been discontinued as a result of privacy concerns and the Associated Press reports this week that the $42 million program is unlikely to be restarted.

The OIG report points out that ADVISE's pilots were implemented before the program's managers addressed its privacy impact. Although Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA) are required for programs that collect personally identifiable information, ADVISE's pilot programs were already mining such data before the managers even began their assessments. Another major concern with the program was that DHS intelligence offices were simply not using it.

Privacy concerns are nothing new for data mining programs; they have grounded several in the past. One well-known example is the Total Information Awareness project, which received a massive amount of negative publicity before Congress shut it down in 2003. Additionally, Secure Flight, the latest attempt at a federal airport prescreening program, was criticized by the Government Accountability Office in 2005 for not disclosing the scope of its use of private information from commercial data brokers. That program was suspended in 2006, although it is back up and will begin testing this fall.


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