A federal panel of policy makers and scientific experts urged a government-wide evaluation Tuesday of programs that sift through databases looking for clues on terrorism, to determine whether the programs are effective and legal, reports the New York Times. The federal government has made aggressive use of so-called data-mining tools since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as counterterrorism officials in many intelligence agencies have sought to analyze records on travel habits, calling patterns, e-mail use, financial transactions and other data to pinpoint possible terrorist activity.
The National Security Agency's program for wiretapping terror suspects without warrants, the screening of suspicious airline passengers and the Pentagon's ill-fated Total Information Awareness program, shut down by Congress in 2003 because of privacy concerns, have all relied on aspects of data mining. But in a 352-page government study released Tuesday, a committee of the National Research Council warned that successfully using these tools to deter terrorism “will be extremely difficult to achieve” because of legal, technological and logistical problems. It said a haphazard approach to using such tools threatened both Americans' privacy rights and the country's legitimate national security needs.