ACLU Hails DHS-Funded Report Condemning Data Mining

October 8, 2008 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Says the dangers to privacy too great to continue “junk science” techniquesWashington, DC – Following the release of a damning Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-funded report yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union demanded an end to the government’s use of data mining. The report, “Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists,” was conducted by a group of privacy and technical experts called the Committee on Technical and Privacy Dimensions of Information for Terrorism Prevention and Other National Goals. The report validates ACLU fears that the practice of data mining is not only vastly invasive to Americans’ privacy but is also ineffective.

“Data mining as preventative law enforcement is alchemy at its worst,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Given the administration’s steady creep towards a total surveillance society, this report could not be more relevant. It is a scathing rebuke of the Bush administration’s policy of vast and indiscriminate information gathering. A major pillar of the administration’s post-9/11 policy has proven itself, as we said it would, to be wholly unstable. The systematic and broad-scale surveillance of Americans is doing nothing to keep us safe. With data mining, it is clearer than ever that the risk far outweighs the reward.”

The committee made several recommendations in the report including greater external oversight of information gathering programs, a framework for both classified and unclassified programs and an emphasis on the quality, not quantity, of data. The report also discourages using behavioral patterns as a predictive measure, and considers any program attempting to assess an individual’s state of mind as suspect. The committee briefed both the DHS and the National Science Foundation (the sponsors of the report) but has not received any feedback.

“This report validates the ACLU’s longstanding claim that data mining for anti-terror and law enforcement work is worse than junk science, it is pseudo-science,” said Timothy D. Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Government agencies that are spending billions on data mining to fight terror would spend their money more effectively trying to discover a magical formula to turn lead into gold. The bloated watch lists are a special case in point. Applying data mining techniques like ‘link analysis’ to the million-person watch list casts a stain of suspicion on everyone who encounters someone on that list – and will quickly balloon it to a hundred million-person watch list. If not stopped now, data mining will turn us all into suspects.”

To read the report “Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists,” go to:

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The latest in National Security

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About National Security

National Security issue image

The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.