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Data Mining for Terrorists Doesn't Work, Results in Dead Dogs

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dog dressed as osama

A fat new report from the National Research Council finds that sweeping data mining to turn up terrorists won't catch the next OBL.

The authors conclude the type of data mining that government bureaucrats would like to do—perhaps inspired by watching too many episodes of the Fox series 24—can't work. "If it were possible to automatically find the digital tracks of terrorists and automatically monitor only the communications of terrorists, public policy choices in this domain would be much simpler. But it is not possible to do so." 

And unlike most of the avalanche of pointless white papers that buries Washington policymakers, there's a decent chance Congress will actually pay attention to NRC's recommendations—they're the ones who convinced Congress that encryption software shouldn't be handled under the same laws as bombs for export controls in the 1990s. 

CNET's article about the report (by reason contributor Declan McCullagh) links to reason's own Radley Balko. Spot the key phrase:

They aim to produce a scholarly evaluation of the current technologies that exist for data mining, their effectiveness, and how government agencies should use them to limit false positives–of the sort that can result in situations like heavily-armed SWAT teams raiding someone's home and shooting their dogs based on the false belief that they were part of a drug ring. 

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  1. … of the sort that can result in situations like heavily-armed SWAT teams raiding someone’s home and shooting their dogs based on the false belief that they were part of a drug ring.

    Speaking entirely hypothetically, of course.

  2. But it is not possible to do so.

    The canary in the data mine.

  3. Is the dead dog stuff a continuation of the chinese/muslim restaurant conversation in another thread?

  4. Isn’t a dog considered a filthy animal in Arab cultures and in Muslim religious tradition?

    Just asking via the goofball who dressed their puppy in Arab garb.

  5. What we need are large bounties. Tremendous bounties. If the U.S. had offered $250 million for bin Laden’s head, wouldn’t it be on a pike in New York right now?

    Other than bounties, the other thing we need are dudes in the field.

  6. sweeping data mining to turn up terrorists won’t catch the next OBL

    That was the last remaining thing the right-wingers could possibly still be right about. Now they are officially wrong about everything. That’s a tough break.

  7. Having been involved in the creation of some of these + other new technologies post 9/11 – my experience was that the targeted use of such technologies, such as to pinpoint valuable data in a stack of documents sitting in the corner of a terrorist cell that’s just been cracked, is very valuable, given the limited number of translators, etc.. For example, in that stack, find the one that includes “sarin” or other keyword and send that to the translator first. But there are / were already a lot of stacks. The global approach is just too vast a source to pool valuable data … but it can still help in streamlining + directing potential candidates for further follow-up (which hopefully don’t involve merely shooting dogs ROFLMAO).

  8. Is the dead dog stuff a continuation of the chinese/muslim restaurant conversation in another thread?

    No, it’s a reference to this:
    https://www.reason.com/news/show/33289.html

  9. That dog is awesome! But clearly he’s living on borrowed time until a SWAT raid kills him.

  10. As long as that dog remains alive the terrorists will have won.

  11. Speaking entirely hypothetically, of course.

    Well, I think we can all accept a few isolated incidents.

  12. The focus of my M.S. was in Data Mining and Steven W. hit the nail on the head.

    Current Data Mining techs can help a lot if you have a good idea of what you are looking for and where you think you will find it. They are NOT good at searching for ill-defined things within large and ill-defined domains.

    Metaphor: If you have a haystack, they can help you find any needles that are inside of it, but they cannot tell you which haystacks have needles and which don’t, let alone which farms have those haystacks and which do not.

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