From late 2004 until mid-2006, a data-mining computer system developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to hunt terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, and biological weapons sifted through Americans’ personal data with little regard for federal privacy laws, says the Christian Science Monitor. The $42 million cutting-edge system, designed to process trillions of pieces of data, has been halted and could be canceled pending data-privacy reviews, says a report to Congress by the agency’s internal watchdog.
Data mining has become an accepted, even mandated, method to provide timely security information. The DHS operates at least a dozen such programs; intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense employ many others. ADVISE (Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement) was electronic omnivore conceived in 2003, it was designed to ingest information from scores of databases, blogs, e-mail traffic, intelligence reports, and other sources. ADVISE, whose existence was detailed by the Monitor in February 2006, failed to incorporate federal privacy laws into its design. The homeland security agency called ADVISE “little more than an empty framework to which data must be applied,” and denied violating privacy laws.