[Politech] Heather MacDonald lashes out at "privacy fanatics" opposed to TIA, CAPPS II [priv]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Thu Apr 01 2004 - 11:50:28 PST

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    This is not an April Fool's joke (I'm serious). We've mentioned Heather 
    MacDonald's work on Politech before 
    (http://www.politechbot.com/p-03349.html) and she's had these opinions 
    for a long time (see http://news.com.com/2100-1029-995229.html and 
    MacDonald's column is part of the Bush partisans' attempt to 
    rehabilitate these programs by demonizing their critics. It's a shame 
    that it's published under the aegis of the Manhattan Institute, which 
    does good work in other areas and, I thought, sought to advance the 
    principles of limited government and individual liberty.
    The 'Privacy' Jihad
    "Total Information Awareness" falls to total Luddite hysteria.
    Thursday, April 1, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST
    The 9/11 Commission hearings have focused public attention again on the 
    intelligence failures leading up to the September attacks. Yet since 
    9/11, virtually every proposal to use intelligence more effectively--to 
    connect the dots--has been shot down by left- and right-wing 
    libertarians as an assault on "privacy." The consequence has been 
    devastating: Just when the country should be unleashing its 
    technological ingenuity to defend against future attacks, scientists 
    stand irresolute, cowed into inaction.
    The privacy advocates--who range from liberal groups focused on 
    electronic privacy, such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, 
    to traditional conservative libertarians, such as Americans for Tax 
    Reform--are fixated on a technique called "data mining." By now, 
    however, they have killed enough different programs that their operating 
    principle can only be formulated as this: No use of computer data or 
    technology anywhere at any time for national defense, if there's the 
    slightest possibility that a rogue use of that technology will offend 
    someone's sense of privacy. They are pushing intelligence agencies back 
    to a pre-9/11 mentality, when the mere potential for a privacy or civil 
    liberties controversy trumped security concerns.
    The privacy advocates' greatest triumph was shutting down the Defense 
    Department's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. Goaded on by New 
    York Times columnist William Safire, the advocates presented the program 
    as the diabolical plan of John Poindexter, the former Reagan national 
    security adviser and director of Pentagon research, to spy on "every 
    public and private act of every American"--in Mr. Safire's words.
    The advocates' distortion of TIA was unrelenting. Most egregiously, they 
    concealed TIA's purpose: to prevent another attack on American soil by 
    uncovering the electronic footprints terrorists leave as they plan and 
    rehearse their assaults. Before terrorists strike, they must enter the 
    country, receive funds, case their targets, buy supplies, and send phone 
    and e-mail messages. Many of those activities will leave a trail in 
    electronic databases. TIA researchers hoped that cutting-edge computer 
    analysis could find that trail in government intelligence files and, 
    possibly, in commercial databases as well...
    But according to the "privacy community," data mining was a dangerous, 
    unconstitutional technology, and the Bush administration had to be 
    stopped from using it for any national-security or law-enforcement 
    purpose. By September 2003, the hysteria against TIA had reached a 
    fevered pitch and Congress ended the research project entirely, before 
    learning the technology's potential and without a single "privacy 
    violation" ever having been committed.
    The overreaction is stunning. Without question, TIA represented a 
    radical leap ahead in both data-mining technology and intelligence 
    analysis. Had it used commercial data, it would have given intelligence 
    agencies instantaneous access to a volume of information about the 
    public that had previously only been available through slower physical 
    searches. As with any public or private power, TIA's capabilities could 
    have been abused--which is why the Pentagon research team planned to 
    build in powerful safeguards to protect individual privacy.
    The bottom line is clear: The privacy battalions oppose not just 
    particular technologies, but technological innovation itself. Any effort 
    to use computerized information more efficiently will be tarred with the 
    predictable buzzwords: "surveillance," "Orwellian," "Poindexter." This 
    Luddite approach to counterterrorism could not be more ominous. The 
    volume of information in government intelligence files long ago 
    overwhelmed the capacity of humans to understand it. Agents miss 
    connections between people and events every day. Machine analysis is 
    essential in an intelligence tidal wave.
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