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Thursday, February 02, 2006

This Administration Could Use Some Artificial Intelligence IV

I can’t seem to get off this subject. You might remember that the title stems from earlier articles that reveal this administration’s recent spying foray that was carried out by the National Security Administration. I reported that in their data mining for terrorist activity, they must have used an approach called artificial intelligence. It’s a form of predictive modeling we used in the junk mail industry to determine the habits of your everyday life, a technology that is just short of the human brain in its ability to reason.

I was ready to fight other dragons, until I heard Bush’s State of the Union message. It convinced me that he, thus the NSA, does not plan to back off from the steam-rolling collision course with the average citizen’s privacy. I repeat…average citizen.

Several polls have been taken re. whether the spying is right or wrong. Some count a majority for, some against. But it isn’t the international telephone call or e-mail to a terrorist that most citizens object to. It’s when innocent people get bundled into the NSA’s data mining operation that makes it wrong…and illegal. James Risen of the New York Times reported over 700 thousand people spied on over four years. Russell Tice, former NSA employee, says the eavesdropping could include millions of Americans.

Dan Eggan of The Washington Post wrote in a January 27 article, “Eavesdropping bill was abandoned in 2003,” that the Justice department was drafting legislation in 2003 to strengthen the USA Patriot Act, that would have provided legal justification for the current NSA spying. Bush, of course, had already issued the order to eavesdrop, but officials deny any connection. Sure. Why pass a law allowing you to do it if you’re already doing it?

To further confirm the wide sweep of spying activity, I refer to Risen’s December article in the New York Times that states: “…NSA technicians…have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects.” What this means is that the NSA data mining (artificial intelligence) gathers data on thousands, even millions of individuals, and puts this through the computer model.

But, in the modeling procedure, it is necessary to identify those individuals in which you are not interested, in order to find the ones you are targeting: the terrorists. In layman’s language, this is simply a matter of making comparisons for elimination. Therefore, innocent citizens are bundled into this enormous effort, with their personal data laid bare, just like the bad guys.

Back in December, the National Security Agency was caught placing persistent cookies on the computers of individuals visiting their Web site. “Persistent” means they hang around for a while, in this case until 2035. NSA did cease the practice once it was made known, but retained the use of temporary cookies that close when exiting the site. In a December 2005 Associated Press article, “Spy Agency Removes Illegal Tracking Files,” privacy advocates point out that cookies can also track Web surfing.

In 2003, the White House Office of Management and Budget prohibited any federal agency from using “persistent” cookies on their Web sites. Which makes this illegal, too. So, why isn’t Attorney General Gonzales at least looking into the possibility that someone is running amok at NSA? Or, was this whole mission of intrigue carefully planned from the beginning and approved right from the top?

CNN reported on December 19 in a piece titled, “Democrats call for investigation of NSA wiretaps,” that two prominent U.S. Senators, one a Republican, Arlen Specter, from Pennsylvania, the other Russ Feingold, Democrat from Wisconsin, have called for an independent panel to investigate the legality of Bush’s spying tactics. They are joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Minority Whip Steny Hoyer; Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee; and Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking member on the House Committee on Government Reform.

Seems I remember reading somewhere that Bush welcomes the investigation. Either he’s mellowing out or Karl Rove has another spin cycle up his sleeve.

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